New law to target emotional abuse and neglect of children

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Image caption,
The new law will seek to define and outlaw emotional abuse and neglect of children

The Scottish government is to bring forward a new law to define and criminalise the emotional abuse and neglect of children.

Early Years Minister Mark McDonald announced the move in response to two reports on child protection.

He said the "archaic language" in the current 1937 Children and Young Persons Act "has resulted in difficulties in prosecuting offences".

Mr McDonald will also chair a national child protection action group.

Opposition parties broadly welcomed the plans, while raising questions about specific issues.

The announcement follows the findings of an independent review of the child protection system, led by former Crown Office chief Catherine Dyer, and the government's child protection improvement programme report.

Ms Dyer's report concluded that the child protection system "works well" for young people identified as being at risk, and is "capable of delivering the support needed". However, it noted the "complex and sensitive" issues dealt with and the "new risks emerging".

It recommended the establishment of a national child protection leadership group, the development of a national child protection register, and a set of national standards for those undertaking significant case reviews.

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Mark McDonald told MSPs that all recommendations of Catherine Dyer's report would be taken forward

In a statement to MSPs, Mr McDonald said all 12 recommendations from the report would be taken forward.

The new criminal offence would be an amendment to the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937, the "archaic" wording of which Mr McDonald said was making it difficult to prosecute abusers.

He told members: "Catherine Dyer's review concludes that, in general, our child protection system works well. However, both she and the Child Protection Improvement Programme Report have identified opportunities to strengthen all aspects of the system to better protect our children.

"I have made clear where I expect to see improvements in Scotland's child protection system, particularly in relation to consistency of approach.

"If in a year's time there is little evidence of real and substantial progress then I will not hesitate to bring forward legislation to provide an appropriate statutory underpinning."

'Lengthy process'

During the subsequent questions, Scottish Conservative Miles Briggs raised the "worrying trend" of human trafficking, asking if there would be specific measures to tackle this.

Mr McDonald replied that the government has a "zero-tolerance" approach to trafficking, and is raising awareness of the services available to victims.

Labour's Iain Gray welcomed any progress towards protecting children, but raised concerns about the speed of "what has been quite a lengthy process".

Mr McDonald told him he had "expectations around the pace of improvement I expect to see".

Scottish Green MSP John Finnie praised the government's record of engaging with the views of looked after children, while Lib Dem Liam McArthur welcomed the willingness to accept the recommendations of the reports.

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