'Update law on child cruelty': Family experts demand changes to increase protection for minors

Police want outmoded definitions to include neglect, intimidation, and emotional abuse

Emotional cruelty to children should be made illegal, according to almost 70 per cent of police officers in England and Wales.

There are substantial laws against the physical abuse of children, but under the current system experts say they are less protected than adults from emotional harm. The law on domestic violence for adults was changed in March to include patterns of emotional abuse, such as intimidation and isolation.

Proposals to close a legislative gap, which means emotional neglect is excluded from the criminal definition of child neglect, will be debated in parliament on Friday. More than 80 MPs from all parties have signed a letter to the Ministry of Justice demanding the law be reviewed. The charity Action for Children and the Lib Dem MP Mark Williams have drafted an alternative law, which could remedy this.

Mr Williams said: "The law, as it is, fails to protect some of the most vulnerable children throughout England and Wales. If the Government is really serious about safeguarding children, the law has to be changed."

A poll of more than 200 police officers in England and Wales by YouGov found that only 5 per cent thought the law should remain the same, while seven in 10 supported change; a quarter were unsure.

Emotional neglect includes abuse such as forcing a child to witness domestic violence, scapegoating a child, humiliation and the enforcement of degrading punishments. Child welfare experts say such treatment can have a "devastating" impact on children's lives, leading to mental health problems.

The Children and Young Persons Act is more than 80 years old, with sections dating back to 1868. It now needs updating, say the experts.

Action for Children's chief executive, Dame Clare Tickell, said: "For the vast majority of families where neglect is a concern, support can turn things around and create a safe home in which children can thrive. For cases at the most severe end of the spectrum, however, the law must be in tune with modern considerations of neglect. This is absolutely necessary for a consistent approach from all agencies concerned. Action for Children has [been in talks] with the Government about this issue and we're hopeful they will take this urgent and important issue forward."

According to government analysis, neglect is the most common reason for a child protection referral, and emotional abuse is 20 per cent more common in these referrals than physical abuse. Experts say changing the law would mean the definition of neglect used by police and judges was the same as currently used by the Government and social workers.

Research shows emotionally deprived children are more likely than their peers to develop mental health problems, be vastly over-represented in the criminal justice system, and have poor social/relationship skills.

The Justice Minister, Damian Green, said last night: "Emotional abuse can be prosecuted under existing criminal law. We want to be absolutely sure that the law in this important area is fit for purpose. "

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee