Today marks a monumental and overdue step forward for children and our efforts to protect them from severe emotional abuse. In her speech to the Houses of Parliament this morning, Her Majesty the Queen announced the Government's intention to move forward with Action for Children's proposal to change the law in England and Wales so emotional as well as physical harm is a criminal offence. This revised law will change lives - for the first time, children will be protected from all forms of abuse.
While emotional abuse may not leave visible scars, its impact on young people, both long and short-term, can be devastating. These children are subjected to ongoing humiliation and degrading punishments; they are scapegoated and ostracised by their parents, who should be their primary source of affection and support. Neglect is the most common reason for a child protection referral across the UK and in the most severe cases the current criminal law does not protect children.
A new law would help children living in cruel and unbearable situations.
The Government's decision to change the law was as a result of a three year campaign, spearheaded by Action for Children and supported by other charities. Moving forward, we will work closely with the Government, our charity partners and a cross-party implementation group to determine how the revised law will be applied and work in practice.
The implementation group will be chaired by Robert Buckland, MP South Swindon, and will include leading experts from all main political parties. Their expertise, legal knowledge and political know-how will ensure this legislation is clear, fair and widely understood. The group will also ensure that any changes to the criminal law remain in the best interests of the child - this is a point on which we and, we know, the Government will never lose focus.
This change in the law is not intended to criminalise vulnerable parents or carers, including those who don't have the capacity to change their behaviour, or who have difficulty physically or financially providing for their children. In these cases and many others, help, not punishment, is required and existing practice used to protect vulnerable people in potential prosecutions should remain.
Emotional neglect is a clearly defined form of child abuse, with studies throughout the world evidencing its detrimental impact. As Robert Buckland recently said in New Humanist magazine, this law change is about tackling 'the systematic terrorising of children by parents who make their lives a living hell'.
Action for Children's research shows that England and Wales are behind the rest of the western world when it comes to keeping children safe from emotional abuse. This morning, the Queen's announcement marks a historic moment for the many vulnerable children who will no longer have to suffer in silence.