Reform of the criminal law on child neglect?

22 January 2014

Article written by Sian Thomas, National Assembly for Wales Research Service

There have been increasing calls for a reform of the law on child neglect in England and Wales. The current criminal offence of child neglect is set out in the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

Image from Pixabay. Licensed under the Creative Commons.

The Child Maltreatment Bill 2013-14 is expected to have its second reading debate in the House of Commons on 28 February 2014. This is a Private Members Bill sponsored by Mark Williams MP for Ceredigion. It seeks to introduce a new alternative criminal offence, based on proposals developed by a panel of advisors convened by the charity Action for Children. Further information on the progress of the Bill can be found on the Parliament UK website.

Action for Children argue that the existing law on child neglect is out-dated. They maintain that the understanding of the harm caused by childhood neglect has developed significantly in the past 80 years, especially in regard to emotional neglect and the non-physical consequences of neglect.

The charity also says that neglect is the most prevalent form of child abuse in the UK, and that studies suggest that as many as 1 in 10 children are neglected. Further information the case put forward for changing the law can be found on the Action for Children website.

The UK Government has previously argued that changing the law is unnecessary as it had received advice that the law is already being interpreted in a contemporary way by the courts and by local authority children’s services departments. More recently in October 2013, Damien Green MP (Minister of State for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims) has asked his officials to undertake a targeted consultation on the adequacy of the existing offence of child cruelty.

Latest published figures show a steady increase in the number of people were found guilty of neglecting a child, rising from 390 convictions in 1997 to 710 convictions in 2010.

A Standard Note: calls for reform of the criminal law on child neglect produced by the House of Commons Library sets out further detail on both the Private Members Bill; the Action for Children’s Campaign; and the UK Government’s position on calls for legal reform.