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‘Cinderella law’: Parents in Britain to be jailed for not loving children?

Published time: March 31, 2014 16:41
Edited time: April 01, 2014 10:22
Reuters/Mansi Thapliyal

Reuters/Mansi Thapliyal

For the first time in history, the UK is planning to introduce the so-called “Cinderella law”, which will jail parents failing to show love to children for up to 10 years in prison, putting it alongside physical or sexual abuse, local media reported.

The UK government is planning to introduce changes to child neglect laws, which will make “emotional cruelty” a crime for the first time, according to Daily Telegraph report. The law will protect children’s emotional, social and behavioral well-being.

The offence will include deliberately ignoring a child, not showing them any love over prolonged periods, forcing degrading punishments or to witness domestic violence, and making them a scapegoat.

The maximum sentence that parents neglecting children could face under the law will be 10 years.

The changes are due to be introduced in Parliament within the framework of the Queen’s Speech in early June.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman came close to confirming the report to the Daily Telegraph.

“The Government believes protecting children from harm is fundamental and that child cruelty is an abhorrent crime which should be punished,” he said. “Every child should be able to grow up in a safe environment. We are considering ways the law can support this.”

This follows a 3-year campaign by the charity, Action for Children, which hails the government’s support as a “monumental step” forward.

The law on child cruelty in Britain has remained unchanged for nearly 81 years, the charity stated. It is still based on the 1868 Poor Law (Amendment) Act.

If adopted it will update the current laws in England and Wales, which state that adults responsible for a child can be prosecuted if they have deliberately assaulted, abandoned or exposed a child to suffering, or injury to their health.

The changes have been “long overdue”, said Robert Buckland, a Conservative MP and part-time judge, campaigning on the issue.

“Not too many years after the Brothers Grimm popularized the story of Cinderella, the offence of child neglect was introduced,” he noted, writing in the Daily Telegraph.

“Our criminal law has never reflected the full range of emotional suffering experienced by children who are abused by their parents or carers. The sad truth is that, until now, the wicked stepmother would have got away scot-free.

“We need a clear, concise and workable definition of child maltreatment — an alternative code that reflects the range of harm done to children and which provides appropriate legal mechanisms to tackle some of the worst cases.

“Emotional neglect must be outlawed, the term 'willful’ should be replaced and the criminal law should be brought into line with its civil counterpart.”

In Britain, as many as 1.5 million children are believed to suffer from neglect, according to local media. Intervention by social workers is allowed when abuse is classed as emotional neglect. However, the new law will allow police to intervene in cases of physical or sexual abuse.

“Much is still to be done and we have not seen the details yet,” said the charity in a statement on it’s website.

“When we do we must, of course, make sure that the new law does not criminalize vulnerable parents, but today I think we should celebrate a huge legal and cultural step forward.”