NSPCC refers more child emotional abuse case referrals

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Media captionPeter Wanless, NSPCC: Emotional abuse can be "hugely damaging"

The number of child emotional abuse cases referred to police and children's services by the NSPCC has risen by 47% in a year, the charity has said.

Its helpline received about 8,000 calls in 2013-14 about such non-physical cruelty, and 5,354 were thought serious enough to merit further inquires.

Ministers are seeking to update laws on emotional abuse in England and Wales.

In total, more than 60,000 people contacted the NSPCC helpline, an increase of 21% on 2012-13.

Emotional abuse is defined in the government guidance document Working Together to Safeguard Children as "the persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child's emotional development."

Cinderella law

The NSPCC said it had taken more emotional abuse calls than ever before, with the number of referrals from its helpline up from 3,629 in 2012-13.

It said the surge may have been triggered by high-profile cases such as that of the murder of four-year-old Daniel Pelka in Coventry in 2012.

He was found to have been starved and beaten at the hands of his mother and her partner.

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Media captionVictim Tina Renton speaking on Radio 5 Live: Emotional neglect is "worse"

The figures have been released as the government considers a potential change in the law to specifically target the emotional neglect and abuse of children.

The so-called Cinderella Law, if passed, would amend the Children and Young Persons Act of 1933, which currently states that a person should be punished for treating a child "in a manner likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health".

A proposed bill would add a further category of harm for which the perpetrator could be punished for impairment of "physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development".

Emotional abuse

'The persistent emotional maltreatment of a child such as to cause severe and persistent adverse effects on the child's emotional development'

It may involve conveying to children that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate, or valued only insofar as they meet the needs of another person

It may feature inappropriate expectations being imposed on children, including interactions that are beyond the child's developmental capability, as well as overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning, or preventing the child participating in normal social interaction

It may involve seeing or hearing the ill-treatment of another

Source: Department for Education: 'Working Together to Safeguard Children'

The NSPCC's head of child protection operations, John Cameron, said if the government were to push through the law it would be a positive step forward.

He added: "We must ensure we support children's services and that the police are given better powers to prosecute those who subject children to emotional neglect and abuse...

"But a law alone is not enough. What we really need to do is work together to prevent this abuse happening in the first place."

His sentiments were echoed by Sir Tony Hawkhead, the chief executive of fellow charity Action for Children, who said the NSPCC's rise in calls and referrals showed the "scale and seriousness of emotional abuse".

The Ministry of Justice has previously confirmed it was "considering ways the law can support" protecting children from emotional abuse.

It said protecting children from harm was "fundamental" and that child cruelty was an "abhorrent crime which should be punished".

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