Mid Wales MP wants 19th Century child neglect law changes

Child on steps - library picture The current criminal neglect offences are described as outdated

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A mid Wales MP is bidding to change child neglect laws that date back to the 19th Century, which he claims are now "nonsense".

Ceredigion MP Mark Williams wants criminal legislation based on 1868 poor laws to be updated to include emotional and psychological abuse.

The original law - last changed in 1933, only refers to "wilful" physical abuse.

The Liberal Democrat MP is bringing forward a private bill in July.

Start Quote

Look at the real cases on the ground and the concerns that social workers and the police have been making”

End Quote Mark Williams MP, Ceredigion

The MP said he has heard harrowing evidence of how emotional abuse can affect children - yet it remains lawful.

"Like the boy who was refused any form of affection, persistently criticised and told he was hated," said Mr Williams.

"He regularly wet his bed and it was left, uncleaned, until maggots were found in the mattress.

"This isn't considered a crime in the UK today. This has to change."

The original law was introduced as part of the Poor Law Amendment Act of 1868, and then incorporated into the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.

It was brought into force following a series of cases involving a religious sect known as the Peculiar People, who refused to offer medical assistance to their children, instead relying on the power of prayer to heal.

'Antiquated' legal language

But the charity Action for Children, which is backing Mr Williams bid, said the criminal legislation is completely outdated.

It cites differences between modern civil legislation and the older criminal laws using different definitions of neglect, and that in the criminal law, only physical abuse is recognised.

Parliamentary Act

Parents neglecting their Children liable to Punishment

37. When any Parent shall wilfully neglect to provide adequate Food, Clothing, Medical Aid, or Lodging for his Child, being in his Custody under the Age of Fourteen Years, whereby the Health of such Child shall have been or shall be likely to be seriously injured, he shall be guilty of an Offence punishable on Summary Conviction, and being convicted thereof before any Two Justices shall be liable to be imprisoned for any Period not exceeding Six Months, with or without Hard Labour, as such Justices shall decide

Poor Law Amendment Act, 1868

"The criminal law on child neglect is only appropriate for use in the most severe cases of child neglect, where all efforts have been made to help parents and carers make changes and to keep families together," argued Matthew Downie from Action for Children.

"Sadly however, we know that in a small number of cases there are parents who intend to harm their children - and the current law fails to protect children from the full range of that harm."

The MP's private member's bill will get its first reading in the House of Commons on 12 July.

But because it is a bill brought forward by a backbench MP, it must win government support to get further time to be debated - and stand a chance of actually becoming law.

"I've got a good cross-party support of backbench MPs from all four of Wales' parties, but we do need government support on this," Mr Williams told BBC Radio Wales' Sunday Supplement programme.

"I would urge the government to not get to bound in the red-tape of bureaucracy of government which often hampers it, but to look at the real cases on the ground and the concerns that social workers and the police have been making, and at least give us a good hearing."

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