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Action for Children wins campaign to outlaw emotional abuse of children

Date:31 MAR 2014
Journals Manager + Online Editor

Following a 3-year campaign by Action for Children, emotional neglect of children is likely to be made illegal in England and Wales. 

The so called 'Cinderella Law' comes on the back of the charity reporting that nearly three quarters (73%) of UK children know another child who is suffering from neglect.

According to the charity, emotional abuse can be as damaging as physical harm, with long-lasting effects on a child. Emotional neglect can include forcing a child to witness domestic violence and the enforcement of degrading punishments.

Action for Children's chief executive Sir Tony Hawkhead said:

'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.'

Neglect is the most common reason for a child protection referral across the UK and emotional abuse is more common in these referrals than physical abuse, according to the Department for Education.

Currently, the criminal definition of child neglect, which affects as many as one in ten children, covers physical harm only.

Prior to Action for Children's campaign to fill the legislative gap, child neglect legislation had not been reviewed in the UK for more than 80 years and is still based on the 1868 Poor Law (Amendment) Act.

Throughout the campaign, the call to update the criminal law gained the support of MPs from all parties, more than 100 of whom signed a letter to the Ministry of Justice  supporting the change, as well as the support of social workers, police, children's charities, senior lawyers, legal academics and other experts.

The campaign in Parliament was spearheaded by former President of the Family Division of the High Court Baroness Butler-Sloss, Mark Williams MP, who introduced a private members' bill to change this law, Robert Buckland MP, and the late Paul Goggins MP.

For more information, visit the Action for Children website.