New 'Cinderella law' included in Queen's Speech

A girl sat on a bed Current child neglect laws have been criticised for focusing on the physical effects of abuse only

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A so-called "Cinderella law" making it illegal to emotionally abuse children has been promised by the government in the Queen's speech.

Stronger laws to protect vulnerable children, which will include new female genital mutilation offences, will fall under a new Serious Crime Bill.

The bill will extend the definition of child cruelty to ensure it covers extreme cases of psychological harm.

It follows a campaign for the new offence by children's charities.

Parents in England and Wales who emotionally neglect their children could, for the first time, be prosecuted.

Earlier this year, the Ministry of Justice confirmed it was "considering ways the law can support" protecting children from emotional cruelty.

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

CHILD NEGLECT

  • Neglect is the persistent failure to meet a child's basic physical and/or psychological needs
  • It includes forcing a child to witness domestic violence, scapegoating them, humiliation and degrading punishments
  • It can lead to lifelong mental health problems and, in some cases, to suicide
  • Currently social workers operate guidance in civil law that does recognise emotional abuse of children
  • But police are limited because criminal law only recognises physical harm

Children's charities say that although social workers do use a definition of child cruelty, because it is not written into law it is difficult for the police to gather evidence.

Action for Children's chief executive, Sir Tony Hawkhead, said the new legislation will change lives.

He said: "Today marks a monumental and overdue step forward for children and our efforts to protect them from severe emotional abuse.

"Children who are made to feel worthless, powerless and unloved by their families will now have the law on their side.

"We are one of the last countries in the Western world to recognise this form of child cruelty - the time for change is long overdue.

"Emotional abuse can create permanent scars, leading to mental health problems and, in extreme cases, to suicide. This legislation will change lives."

He added that the charity's campaign was about serious, deliberate harm to children and that emotional abuse is "not a grey area".

The charity will join a cross-party group of MPs to determine how the new law will be delivered.

The bill will also further the reach of the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003, so that offences apply to habitual as well as permanent UK residents.

It is hoped it will help legal officials to bring to justice criminals who target vulnerable young women and children.

An estimated 66,000 women in the UK have undergone FGM and more than 20,000 girls under 15 are thought to be at risk of the practice.

A new offence of possessing written paedophilic material has also been included in the Bill.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) and other crime-fighting organisations will also be given stronger powers to try to tackle criminals.

It includes the power to seize, detain and destroy criminal substances suspected of being used as cutting agents for illegal drugs.

The legislation was outlined in a programme of new bills announced in the Queen's Speech, which the coalition government hopes to enshrine in law before next year's election.

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