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Cinderella law to criminalise child cruelty being considered

The Government is considering the introduction of a new criminal offence of committing emotional cruelty towards children, reports the BBC.

The proposal will see existing neglect laws changed to incorporate a new criminal offence of emotional cruelty. The proposal was first mooted by charity Action for Children, and has been nicknamed the 'Cinderella law'.

Child cruelty is currently a vague offence, founded in the principle of neglect, and stemming from the duty of care owed by parents and guardians to their children. Beyond this, child cruelty is then defined by social workers, but it is not written into statute law.

The problem with the existing approach is that without a fixed definition, police struggle to gather evidence that could lead to a potential prosecution.

Under existing law, neglecting a child involves persistently failing to meet their basic physical or psychological needs. This is a broad definition and stretches to include humiliation, degrading punishment, and even subjecting a child to watching domestic violence.

The police are usually able to act in cases involving physical harm, as this tends to be more clear-cut, but in cases of emotional harm the boundaries are less well defined.

Conservative MP Rob Buckland is supporting the idea of a new Cinderella law.

"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," he told the BBC.

"Isolating them, belittling them, rejecting them, corrupting them, as well, into criminal or anti-social behavior," he added.

Existing criminal law

The Children and Young Persons Act 1933 is the Act of Parliament which defined cruelty to children, and section one of the Act made it a criminal offence for someone responsible for the care of a child to fail to provide essentials such as food, clothing, medical care and lodgings.

In their document, 'Keeping children safe: The case for reforming the law on child neglect', Action for Children cite the fact that the 1933 law covers only the very essential elements of raising a child, and that neglect can exist even when these bare essentials are provided by a parent.

The document also highlights the lifelong effects of neglect, which it identifies as being able to last a lifetime, and which is often then passed on by a victim to their children.

The charity are also campaigning for more tools to tackle child neglect, stating that sending neglectful parents to prison is not the only solution, and that there should be a greater emphasis on educating parents to ensure they improve.

It is thought the Government is considering options to have new laws added in to an existing Act to avoid the need for a new Act of Parliament which could take time to achieve approval.