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Child neglect law outdated: charity

Child neglect law in England and Wales is "outdated" compared to the rest of the world, a charity has warned.

Action for Children said that the 80 year-old legislation does not take into account emotional neglect and abuse of youngsters.

Parents or carers who emotionally neglect and abuse children - for instance by exposing a child to domestic violence, humiliating them or rejecting them - do not face any criminal sanctions for their actions.

Researchers at the charity said that in England and Wales the criminal law defines neglect differently to family law, which creates confusion and stops police officers and social workers from working together effectively.

They examined 31 comparable legal jurisdictions from across the world and found that only two rule out emotional abuse of a child within criminal law - England and Wales and Washington State, in the United States.

In South Africa, Singapore, New Zealand, Denmark, Finland, Cyprus, Israel, Croatia, Lithuania, Germany, Austria, Italy and Belgium, among other countries, it is a criminal offence to emotionally abuse a child, they found.

They also said that the law in Scotland is "unclear" on whether emotional neglect is included.

The charity, which is campaigning for the law on child neglect to be changed, said that emotional neglect or abuse can be "hugely damaging" to children.

"It's shocking to see that we are so far behind the rest of the world," said Matthew Downie, head of campaigns at Action for Children.

" This is a law which should protect children from all forms of abuse, but fails to do so.

"We know that severe emotional abuse can cause appalling suffering to children, many of whom will go on to live with trauma, mental health problems and in some cases suicidal thoughts for the rest of their lives.

"We are in close discussions with the Government who now have a unique opportunity to make the law fit for purpose and we hope they seize the opportunity to fully protect children."

MP Mark Williams is leading a Private Members' Bill which aims to protect children "more effectively" in the most serious cases of neglect, a charity spokeswoman said. The Child Maltreatment Private Members' Bill is due to have its Second Reading in the House of Commons on November 22.

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