Controversial plans to criminalise parents for emotional neglect were announced in the Queen’s Speech yesterday.
The proposals, which were included as part of a Serious Crime Bill, are likely to carry a maximum prison sentence of ten years for anyone who deliberately harms a child’s “physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development”.
But social workers can already intervene under civil law if a child is being subjected to emotional neglect.
Critics argue that the so-called Cinderella law is too vague.
Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust said: “The term ’emotional harm’ is capable of a broad range of interpretations”.
And an editorial in the Daily Telegraph expressed “doubts about the efficacy” of the proposals, questioning whether they will work “in a just and fair way”.
Writing in The Times, columnist Libby Purves said that religious parents could be criminalised for teaching beliefs to their children which contradict teaching at school.
She also commented, “we have a record of insouciant, well-meant legal drafting; and once something is enshrined in law it can cause problems either by reckless enforcement or by palpable unenforceability”.
The Children and Young Persons Act 1933 covers anyone who “wilfully assaults, ill-treats, neglects, abandons, or exposes [a child] or causes or procures him to be assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, abandoned, or exposed, in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to health including injury to or loss of sight, or hearing, or limb, or organ of the body, and any mental derangement”.
The plans to criminalise emotional neglect have received support from Conservative MP Robert Buckland, and were born out of a campaign led by the charity Action for Children.
Buckland said that “the criminal law should be brought into line with its civil counterpart.”
The Government intends to enshrine in law the Bills that were announced in the Queen’s Speech before next year’s General Election.