31/03/2014 13:13 BST | Updated 31/05/2014 06:59 BST

Emotional Abuse Cannot Be Ignored - and Now Children Have the Law on Their Side

You only have to open a newspaper these days to see that physical child abuse is too much a part of our society. These cases are heart breaking, but just the tip of the iceberg; countless children throughout the UK are suffering from another, equally damaging form of abuse you don't see in headlines. This is emotional abuse.

Emotional abuse is not only as harmful as physical abuse, it is more prevalent, as the most common reason for a child protection referral. While most parents and carers can be helped to stop emotionally neglecting their children, there are unfortunately some people who intentionally inflict emotional cruelty and an adequate law must be in place.

At Action for Children, we have reached a huge milestone - following our three-year campaign and thanks to the Ministry of Justice, the legal definition of child cruelty will include emotional as well as physical harm.

This new law will change lives. I've met children and young people who have suffered intolerable emotional abuse at the hands of people who are supposed to love them most. I've talked to children who have been subjected to ongoing humiliation and degrading punishments, been scapegoated and ostracised. These young people feel unloved, completely uncared for, and the impact is devastating.

Children who experience emotional abuse can struggle to form relationships and some suffer from low self-esteem. Some endure life-long mental health problems and, in extreme cases, the impact of emotional abuse can lead to self-harm or even suicide, later in life.

The law in England and Wales is 80 years old and is based on the 1868 Poor Law (Amendment) Act. Until now, it has not kept up with our understanding of the impact of abuse on children, nor has it taken account of all forms of abuse - emotional as well as physical. While social workers operate under modern guidance, the police have had their hands tied.

This change in the law will help children like Samantha , whose desperate situation remained unseen and unheard by authorities because emotional abuse was not recognised. While she was never beaten, she grew up seeing her father physically abuse her mother, their family crumbling under his alcoholism and violent temper. On top of this, her parents treated her differently from her siblings, singling her out for punishments. As a result, Samantha suffered from incredibly low self-esteem throughout her life.

She sought help from Action for Children, and was given one-to-one emotional support and help to get her life on track.

This new law will help prevent children from suffering like Samantha did; it is a law that will go directly from the Houses of Parliament into houses of families throughout our communities.