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Robert Buckland, a Conservative MP who has backed the charity’s campaign, said the current law was outdated as it is based largely on legislation first introduced 150 years ago.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.