The proposed change to make the emotional cruelty of children in England and Wales illegal, follows a three-year campaign by the charity Action for Children for current laws surrounding child neglect to be urgently updated.
At the moment, the law on child neglect, which was passed in 1933, only covers physical harm, which the charity says is too narrow and fails to take into account all forms of neglect.
According to Action for Children, emotional abuse, which can include forcing a child to witness domestic violence and the enforcement of ‘degrading’ punishments, can be as damaging as physical harm, with long-lasting effects on a child.
The charity’s campaign has received the support of MPs from all parties, with more than 100 signing a letter to the Ministry of Justice calling for a change in law.
Robert Buckland, a Conservative MP who backed the charity’s campaign, said the current law was outdated as it is based largely on legislation first introduced nearly 50 years ago in 1868.
‘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’, Mr Buckland told BBC Radio 5 Live.
He added that the new law would not criminalise parents for being ‘nasty’, but for their criminal behaviour.
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.’
A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said protecting children from harm was ‘fundamental’ and that child cruelty was an ‘abhorrent crime which should be punished.’
According to reports, ministers are looking to introduce the measure ahead of the next election and possibly in the Queen’s Speech in June.
Alternatively, it has also been suggested that the change to neglect laws could be added on to an existing bill, as the change would not require a separate piece of legislation.