Parents who starve their children of love could face jail under a new law dubbed ‘Cinderella’s law’. Emotional cruelty will now be considered a criminal offence for the first time, with those guilty of emotionally abusing children in their care facing the same jail threat as those guilty of actual physical neglect.
The changes to current child neglect legislation will be introduced in June through the Queen’s Speech. A campaign to change the law has been led by the charity Action for Children alongside MPs from all three major political parties together with Chief Executive Sir Tony Hawkhead. He commented:
“This is a monumental step forward for thousands of children who we know suffer from emotional abuse and countless others whose desperate situations have yet to come to light.
“I’ve met children who have been scapegoated in their families, constantly humiliated and made to feel unloved. The impact is devastating and can lead to life-long mental health problems and, in some cases, suicide.
“We are one of the last countries in the western world to recognise all forms of child abuse as a crime. Years of campaigning have been rewarded, the government has listened and this law will change lives.”
Conservative MP Robert Buckland was also involved in the campaign and had called for a ‘clear, concise and workable definition of child maltreatment’. He commented that existing criminal law did not reflect the ‘full range of emotional suffering experienced by children who are abused by their parents or carers. He added:
“The sad truth is that, until now, the Wicked Stepmother would have got away scot-free.”
The proposed change in child neglect laws would make it a criminal offence for the parents or carers to harm a child’s “physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development” while other new offences could include forcing a child to witness domestic violence. Parents convicted under the new legislation could face custodial sentences of up to ten years. A Ministry of Justice spokesman said:
“The government believes protecting children from harm is fundamental and that child cruelty is an abhorrent crime which should be punished.
“Every child should be able to grow up in a safe environment – we are considering ways the law can support this.”