‘Cinderella’ emotional law under consideration

If there was anything that made me scream ‘it’s about time’ it was this story. I’ve been ever hopeful of this for some time.

It has been confirmed that the government are considering whether to introduce a new offence of emotional cruelty to children. This follows the campaign from charity Action for Children which aimed for a ‘Cinderella law’.

Current neglect laws have been criticised for focusing mainly on the physical effects of abuse only, one would assume mostly as it’s easier to find evidence for the physical abuse. The proposed change to neglect laws in England and Wales would see parents who deny their children affection face prosecution for the first time.

Social workers have a definition of cruelty which forms the basis of their work, but this definition is not written in law surprisingly. What this means is that it’s very difficult for police to gather evidence in these cases.

Action for Children’s chief executive, Sir Tony Hawkhead, said the change would be a “monumental step forward for thousands of children”.

Robert Buckland, a Conservative MP who has backed the charity’s campaign, said the current law was outdated as it is based largely on legislation first introduced 150 years ago. And he stressed that non-physical abuse could cause “significant harm” to children.

“You can look at a range of behaviours, from ignoring a child’s presence, failing to stimulate a child, right through to acts of in fact terrorising a child where the child is frightened to disclose what is happening to them,” Mr Buckland told BBC Radio 5 live. “Isolating them, belittling them, rejecting them, corrupting them, as well, into criminal or anti-social behaviour.”

He said the new law would not criminalise parents for being nasty, but for their criminal behaviour.

“This proposal is not about widening the net, it’s about making the net stronger so that we catch those parents and carers who are quite clearly inflicting significant harm on their children, whereas they should be nurturing them and loving them,” Mr Buckland said. He added that it would also give police a “clearer way” in which to work, he said.

The campaign was also backed by Liberal Democrat MP Mark Williams, who introduced a private member’s bill on the issue last year, the late Labour MP Paul Goggins and Baroness Butler-Sloss, a former judge who was president of the family division of the High Court.

The Children and Young Persons Act of 1933 provides for the punishment of a person who treats a child “in a manner likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health (including injury to or loss of sight, or hearing, or limb, or organ of the body, and any mental derangement)”. Mr Williams’s bill would add a further category of harm for which the perpetrator could be punished: impairment of “physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development”.

Child neglect was made a punishable offence by the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1868.

The Ministry of Justice confirmed it was “considering ways the law can support” protecting children from this sort of harm. A spokesman said protecting children from harm was “fundamental” and that child cruelty was an “abhorrent crime which should be punished”.

Ministers are looking to introduce the measure ahead of the next election, possibly in the Queen’s Speech, but sources told the BBC it was not yet a done deal. But it is understood this might not be the case as such a change would not require a separate piece of legislation – it could instead be added on to an existing bill.

Well I think it’s blatantly obvious why my thought is ‘it’s about time’. Neglect by definition is a persistent failure to meet a child’s physical and psychological needs. The civil law does recognise emotional abuse of children, that is what our social workers operate guidance from, but the police however are limited because the criminal law does not, it only recognises physical abuse. This law was introduced 146 years ago and has not been updated in all that time. Emotional abuse is just as serious an offense and can have just as negative as an impact as physical abuse so should be given the same punishment.

I want to finish this post with a story released by Action for Children. This is the story of a woman called Collette. Collette’s father is black and was frequently told by her white mother that she had been ‘a mistake’. Here is an account of what Collette said;

‘When my mother met my stepfather and had children with him, I was in the way. My stepfather was racist and she had no excuse for having a mixed-raced child. The result was me being treated like Cinderella but without the ball and happy ending. I felt like I shouldn’t have been born, I’d been told often enough. I would watch how my parents would be so different with my younger siblings and burn with anger and jealousy. I was placed under the Mental Health Act and have been receiving help ever since. I was finally diagnosed with severe depression, post-traumatic stress, bipolar and anxiety.’

Stories that are similar to this occur in around 1 in 10 children, according to a report last week by Action for Children. Let’s put a stop to this cruel and vile behaviour. No child deserves this, so let’s put those shameful people who inflict it away for good.


9 thoughts on “‘Cinderella’ emotional law under consideration

  1. I applaud the nature of this law. I suppose what I might say has more bearing on U.S. law, since I am an American. Here in the U.S. the newest generation of children are being raised to call the cops on their parents if their parent just tells them that they can’t have a toy, or some candy. Their parents are allowing them to walk all over them, which is why so many young adults in this country have this enormous sense of entitlement. My concern is that a law of this nature will encourage all manner of spoiled little children to be able to report their parents when they don’t get an allowance, when all of their friends do, despite the fact that both parents have to work, and one of them might have two jobs, just to make ends meet. A law like this would have saved me so much anguish had I been able to report my alcoholic mother. Her favorite thing to do, was to tell me how stupid, ugly and worthless I was every single day. By the time I was 16, I truly believed those things were true about me. Back in the 1980’s, you just didn’t hear about that kind of abuse. Nobody wanted to admit that it was going on. Again, this law is a great step forward. It is my hope that it does not get abused by children.

    1. Hi there, thanks for reading and commenting 🙂

      I have similar events myself in the past. For years on end I was told I was worthless and have nothing to aim for. It drove me into a path of destruction at just 10 years old. It took me 7 years to work out I was going in the wrong the direction and eventually found myself embarking on a career on the front line of this. I know first hand how things could effect children and certainly don’t want anyone to go down the same road as I was heading.

      I wasn’t aware of how things are in the US, that’s really quite an interesting experience. I’ve certainly never heard of that before. I would hope that we wouldn’t have the same impact here. The problem a lot of children who are abused have is a sense that they can’t speak out at all. I know I did for a long time, and in some respects still do now.

  2. Unfortunately, we Yanks are in an era of child worship over here. You can’t spank your children, because that only teaches them to hit. (I’ve never yet found out how they jumped to that assumption.) They don’t want teachers to be able to grade in red pen, because it might damage the children’s fragile little psyche. You have to give everyone a trophy, even if they didn’t win, because goodness knows we can’t teach them that sometimes, you’ve got to be the loser. I mean, how did those of us born in the 50’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s ever survive will all these assaults upon our fragile little egos? It’s become quite ridiculous, actually. And somehow the government has taken away all the tools a parent ought to have at their disposal, so they don’t wind up raising selfish little brats who are accustomed to always getting their way. Parents are now afraid that if they spank their children, ground their children, or cause them to miss out on any social engagements. They fear that their child will get on facebook and wail about how mean and cruel their parents are. Their own children are threatening them with calling the cops for things most of us abuse victims would have happily suffered through, instead of what we faced. If all I faced was being grounded, not having an allowance, and not getting every toy or piece of candy I wanted, I’d not be quite as distorted as I am now. I’d have considered that an excellent childhood. These are the kinds of children that I fear would take advantage of this kind of law. I suppose I’m fortunate in that I vowed at an early teen age, that if I ever had children, I would never treat them like I was treated. I have four sons, now. Two of them have special needs. I feel fortunate that my parents gave me such a lousy example of how to raise children. I apologize to my children when I’ve done something wrong. I want them to know that even adults make mistakes, and that it’s not the end of the world if they have to make amends. I can still let my anger take the reigns and say things I had no business saying. In those cases, I ask them to forgive me. I find that to be so important, simply because my parents never admitted they were wrong, and it was apparently impossible for them to make mistakes. When my kids do something stupid, I don’t tell them that they are stupid. I tell them that their action was stupid. I find making that distinction is very important. My boys are such good boys. Yes, they can drive me up the wall, they can make me sometimes wish I were deaf, so that I didn’t have to hear all the bickering and whining. But I don’t worry about taking them out in public, or how they’re behaving at school. And I’ve spanked them, put them in time-outs, grounded them, took away certain privileges. I’ve made them finish their homework before dinner, or playing their games. And yet they still come to me and hug me at random and tell me that they love me. It’s a shame that more parents haven’t come to the realization that when you teach your child consequences, and you give them boundaries, it better equips them for the real world once they leave. It allows them to have an honest understanding about what their choices and actions mean. It demonstrates that you love them enough not to go about willy-nilly all over the place. It’s good that this world has finally recognized that emotional abuse is just as harmful as physical abuse. But we Americans will definitely need to let go of all this child worship if we’re going to ensure that laws like this one isn’t abused. Sorry for the long diatribe I’ve just typed. Thanks for responding. I hope things are going well for you on that half of the planet. 🙂

    1. By all means type as much as you want, it’s fascinating to look at experiences from different parts of the world.

      If I’m honest, I’ve been of the ilk of never hitting a child in the first place, that doesn’t set a role model for me, regardless whether you might think it’s negative reinforcement. If it leaves a mark it can be deemed as physical abuse which constitutes neglect.

      I’ve never wanted kids of my own for fear that I would end up like ‘them’. It is a distinct improbability given the development that I’ve done over the past few years. yet it’s always a nagging feeling in my mind whenever I talk about the possibility of having children of my own.

      I have to say child worship isn’t as bad as it’s being labeled here. To my understanding without being a parent myself, a child is the most important thing in their life, but I do agree though, that it is possible to love a child too much and forget to put boundaries on and kids grow up being molly-cuddled into a world of fantasy where everything is all so perfect, which we all know is different from how the real world is, especially given this economy we’re in at the moment. There is still poverty right on our doorsteps, families struggling to make ends meet, national debt not coming down.

      1. To me, there is a distinct difference between spanking your child, and hitting your child. I’ve spanked my sons when I felt it was needed, but I never left a mark. I’ve rarely spanked my two youngest, simply because I learned a bit about children during the 7 years between my two sets of boys. I learned that children crave attention, and they will do what they believe will get them the most attention. So what I started to do, was pay much more attention to the good things they did, and made less of a big deal about the bad things that they did. When they would do something good, I would clap my hands, smile really big, dance them around for a bit, and tell them what a great job they had done. Sometimes I would reward them with a treat. A treat might be something simple like being able to stay up another 15 minutes past bed time. It might be something like an extra bite of dessert, or a small toy. I tried not to overdo the treats, because I didn’t want it to be that easy for them to earn something special. When they would do bad things, I would sit them down, discuss their behavior in a calm tone, and then I would give them their punishment. After doing that for a while, they opted to do more good things than bad, because it got them more attention. My oldest is 19, my youngest is 9. I don’t do spankings anymore, and I haven’t for years. I find taking away their favorite toys or games, or not allowing them to watch their favorite show, to be for more torturous for them. But I think every parent ought to be able to spank their child if the situation calls for it, provided they’re not shrieking at their child while they spank them, or give them more than five swats. A parent should never let anger rule their discipline, but if it should, they should apologize. That’s a hard thing for a parent to do, as I’ve had to do. It has been my hope that if I trusted and loved them enough to admit my own shortcomings and mistakes, then they would love and trust me enough to admit theirs when they make them. My mother only ever hit me once. I was 16, and she slapped me across the face. I slapped her back, because I was more willing to take the spanking from my father, than to let her think for one second that I was going to allow her to hit me again. She never touched me again after that. I had a line, she had crossed it, and I ensured she never dared do it again. I suppose the fact that I hit her harder than she hit me probably sealed the deal. The look of shock on her face in that moment is a precious memory that I always smile when I recall. It was the least she deserved for the anguish and misery she caused me. I’m very proud of that moment. My parents missed out on knowing a wonderful person, because they treated me like trash at every turn. I take a certain amount of satisfaction in knowing that my boys love me far more than I ever loved my parents. I take satisfaction in knowing that my boys will never look at me as someone who betrayed their innocence, like I did with my parents.

  3. Like you, I’m glad this law is being proposed; I know from personal experience that emotional abuse can have the same long-lasting, devastating impact as physical and sexual abuse do for a child. The laws and education programs need to move forward everywhere to protect children from emotional abuse. It’s too bad that there is so much reaction and hateful stereotyping of children and how laws protecting them will work.

    Unfortunately, something like 85% of american children are still the victims of corporal punishment, and actually children have an extremely high barrier to climb over here in order to be helped out of abusive situations. There is no so-called “witch hunt” that people fume about, but an epidemic of child abuse that is so often ignored.

    1. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment 🙂

      I’m quite intrigued by what you mean by an epidemic that is being ignored. Is it really being ignored or is it not being highlighted due to the way your laws work? I’m finding it rather difficult to piece together how things are actually turning out over that way. It does seem, however, that there is a propensity to misuse laws such as this one for the child’s personal gain, rather than for how it is intended.

      In general, it seems to be one of those things that works spectacularly in theory, but when it comes to the practice part of things, it may not quite work as hoped for.

      1. Yes, it is being ignored, and part of what keeps children from being believed and listened to is the baseless lie that they are manipulative and “misusing laws for their own gain” (whatever that means when actually, happy children with loving parents don’t try to report them for child abuse, and the laws exist to benefit children so why should it be bad to be “for their gain.” Since a law against emotional abuse had not yet been adopted in the US or UK, it can’t really be said that it works better in theory yet. I’m glad children will be protected, and some abusive parents forced to change.

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