Legal Eagle: Can child abuse be emotional as well as physical?

With a shocking number of celebrities linked to child abuse in the news, the issue has never been at the forefront of public consciousness in the way before.

Add in scandals in Rochdale and, more recently, Rotherham and protecting children is clearly of upmost importance.

But can someone still be guilty of abuse without ever having a finger laid on them?

MM have teamed up with Olliers Solicitors, a leading criminal law firm based in Manchester, to answer your questions.


To MM and Olliers Solicitors,

I have a question for you to answer please.

With all this about child abuse in the news, is it just covering physical abuse or can it be emotional neglect as well?

I was just wondering because you see child abuse stories all the time, but obviously they can’t go in to detail about the crimes. And I wanted to know if this is both emotional and physical.



Parents who starve their children of love will now potentially face jail under new legislation dubbed ‘Cinderella’s law’.

Emotional cruelty will now be considered a criminal offence for the first time, with those guilty of emotionally abusing children in their care facing the same jail threat as those guilty of actual physical neglect.

The changes to current child neglect legislation were announced in June through the Queen’s Speech.

A campaign to change the law was led by the charity Action for Children alongside MPs from all three major political parties together with Chief Executive Sir Tony Hawkhead.

He said:”This is a monumental step forward for thousands of children who we know suffer from emotional abuse and countless others whose desperate situations have yet to come to light.

“I’ve met children who have been scapegoated in their families, constantly humiliated and made to feel unloved. The impact is devastating and can lead to life-long mental health problems and, in some cases, suicide.

“We are one of the last countries in the western world to recognise all forms of child abuse as a crime.

“Years of campaigning have been rewarded, the government has listened and this law will change lives.”

Conservative MP Robert Buckland was also involved in the campaign and had called for a ‘clear, concise and workable definition of child maltreatment’.

He said that existing criminal law did not reflect the ‘full range of emotional suffering experienced by children who are abused by their parents or carers.

He also added that ‘the Wicked Stepmother would have got away scot-free’ up until the introduction of the new law.

The changes to child neglect laws make it a criminal offence for the parents or carers to harm a child’s ‘physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development’.

Parents convicted under the new legislation could face a jail sentence of up to ten years.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said:”The Government believes protecting children from harm is fundamental and that child cruelty is an abhorrent crime which should be punished.

“Every child should be able to grow up in a safe environment – we are considering ways the law can support this.”

The changes to the current legislation fill a loop hole that only really allows a prosecution in cases where it can be proven that children have been physically neglected.

But the new laws make it clear that children can be severely damaged with a lack of emotional affection.

So many children are suffering as a result of not having their emotional needs met by their parents and the introduction of strong legal changes should mean that the law protects them from abuse.

Do you have a question for the legal team at Olliers Solicitors? 

Their specialist criminal lawyers – including a specialist motor law department – are ready to answer your questions for FREE. All you have to do is email them in to our newsdesk here: newsdesk (at) mancunianmatters (dot) co (dot) uk

Images courtesy of Jim Legans Jr and Runar Pederson Holkestad, with thanks

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