A sweeping parenting law that would criminalise emotional neglect will reportedly be included in the Queen’s Speech on June 4.
The new law would carry a maximum prison sentence of ten years for anyone who deliberately harms a child’s “physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development”.
But critics have warned against the legislation saying it would mean that “every mother and father is at risk of being labelled an abuser”.
Currently there are some 22,000 children on child protection registers for neglect and a social worker can intervene if the child is being subjected to emotional neglect.
Campaigners who are in favour of the new law claim that the new law would better protect the 1.5 million British children who are believed to be suffering from emotional neglect.
But critics argue that the new law defines emotional abuse in an “amorphous and expansive manner”, giving a dangerously subjective law a wide reach.
Writing in The Independent, Professor Frank Furedi explained how “once the emotional behaviour of parents becomes a target for policing, every mother and father is at risk of being labelled an abuser”.
He also described how mothers and fathers who wish to “educate their children to embrace the family’s religion” have been characterised as “child abusers”.
He commented: “Campaigners devoted to the criminalisation of emotional abuse have deliberately defined it in an amorphous and expansive manner.”
Speaking of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children’s (NSPCC) definition of emotional abuse, he said it “includes forms of behaviour that, depending on the context, may or may not be harmful to a child”.
“For example, the NSPCC includes in its definition of emotional abuse the ‘making of fun’ of what a child says or how they communicate.
“I am not sure what universe the NSPCC inhabits, but in the real world, the making fun of one another is the stuff of family life. When parents and children interact, they are likely to make jokes at each others’ expense.
“Where does good-natured banter end and destructive verbal joking begin? Whatever the answer is to this question, it will not be found in the law courts.”
The proposed legislation, so-called the “Cinderella Law”, has received support from Conservative MP Robert Buckland and was born out of a campaign led by the charity Action for Children.
He said that “the criminal law should be brought into line with its civil counterpart.”
But journalists have continued to criticise the complexities around enforcing such an ambiguous law.
In an article ‘A valuable Cinderella Law… or more state meddling?’ The Telegraph’s Philip Johnston said: “How would we measure adequate amounts of parental affection or emotional commitment, and who would decide? Is this an area that the state should be getting involved in at all?”
Under the Children and Young Persons Act 1933, child neglect includes a failure to provide adequate food, clothing, medical aid or lodging.
Critics agree that while the law covering non-physical harm may need to be updated, the process requires careful consideration and should not be rushed through Parliament.