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‘A new-born of respectable class would have weighed more’: Class, gender and child neglect in Late-Nineteenth Century England

Date:27 APR 2022
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Dr Rachel Pimm-Smith, Lecturer in Law, University of Exeter

Keywords: Child neglect - legal history - poverty - gender - child protection

This article explores how child neglect was criminalised during the period that the first statutory offence existed but was not enforced. The article addresses a gap in scholarship by exploring the Victorian origins of the neglect law and the ways it disproportionately penalised poor families when a child suffered from a lack of material provision. This was particularly true for biological mothers and a limited number of biological fathers who were treated more harshly by Victorian juries if they transgressed middle-class expectations of gender. Class conflict and gender bias featured heavily in the trials involving neglectful parenting which, this article asserts, provides another example of the ways that the poor were punished for their economic misfortune during the late-nineteenth century. Understanding the effectiveness of enforcement during this period is important because of the heavy reliance of modern neglect law on Victorian legislation.

This article has been accepted for publication in Child and Family Law Quarterly in Issue 2, Vol 34, Year 2022. The final published version of this article will be published and made publicly available here 24 months after its publication date, under a CC-BY-NC licence. 

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