British parents who starve their children of love and affection could now face prosecution under a “Cinderella Law” that would criminalize not only physical and sexual abuse but “emotional cruelty” as well, Britain’s Daily Telegraph reported.
According to the newspaper report, the British government plans to introduce the change to its child neglect laws in early June “to enforce the protection of children’s emotional, social and behavioral well-being.”
Parents found guilty of committing emotional abuse could receive up to 10 years in prison.
Until now, the law covered only cases of deliberate parental assault, abandonment, causing of physical suffering or injuring the child’s health, the Telegraph reported.
Under the new rule, it would be a crime to commit any act that deliberately harmed a child’s “physical intellectual, emotional, social or behavioral development.”
“This could include deliberately ignoring a child, or not showing them any love, over prolonged periods, damaging a child’s emotional development,” the paper noted.
Under the proposed changes, it would be considered an offense to force a child to “witness domestic violence, making a child a scape goat or forcing degrading punishments upon them,” the Telegraph reported.
The law is aimed at allowing social workers to intervene in family crises at an earlier stage, before any physical or sexual violence occurs.
Conservative Member of Parliament Robert Buckland, who campaigned for the revision, wrote in the Telegraph that “the time for change is long overdue.”
“Not too many years after the Brothers Grimm popularized the story of Cinderella, the offense of child neglect was introduced,” Buckland wrote. “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.”
While the British government did not directly confirm the report, a Ministry of Justice spokesman told the Telegraph, “The government believes protecting children from harm is fundamental and that child cruelty is an abhorrent crime which should be punished.”
“Every child should be able to grow up in a safe environment. We are considering ways the law can support this,” the spokesman added.
Despite the support among child welfare activists, the pending law has received some negative reaction. One commenter posted on the website of the British paper the Independent, "My mum won't let me play with my XBOX" "Don't worry, we'll put her in prison for 10 years."
Another wrote, "There is huge and sinister potential in a law like this — the definition is so conveniently elastic that almost *any* activity of which the state disapproves can be construed as 'emotional abuse.'"
A reader of the Daily Mail posted this comment on that paper's coverage of the law: "How on earth do you define emotional abuse? It is typical of these people to blame the problems of child rearing on the parents. Surely the logical outcome of this sort of idiotic thinking is to dispense with the parents entirely and hand over the responsibility for bringing up the children to Social Services. That should solve the problem at a stroke!"