Changes to the child neglect laws will make ‘emotional cruelty’ a crime for the first time, alongside physical or sexual abuse.It is of course ludicrously vague to define a crime in this way. The existing reference to physical health is vague enough, and results in such appalling instances as children being snatched from parents because of supposed risk of obesity, exposure to cigarette smoke, or refusal to let surgeons perform operations of dubious value. The mind boggles at the various ways a definition of emotional harm might be interpreted by zealous and ideologically motivated police or social workers.
The Government will introduce the change in the Queen’s Speech in early June to enforce the protection of children’s emotional, social and behavioural well-being.
Parents found guilty under the law change could face up to 10 years in prison, the maximum term in child neglect cases.
The change will update existing laws in England and Wales which only allow an adult responsible for a child to be prosecuted if they have deliberately assaulted, abandoned or exposed a child to suffering or injury to their health.
The new offence would make it a crime to do anything that deliberately harmed a child’s ‘physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development’.
This could include deliberately ignoring a child, or not showing them any love, over prolonged periods, damaging a child’s emotional development.
(Daily Telegraph, 30 March 2014)
We may assume that, whatever suffering a child may be undergoing at home, the intervention into the family and the coercive break-up, involving forced separation of parent from child, is liable to be highly traumatic and cause long-term psychological damage to the child. This aspect of intervention is surely obvious, but is rarely mentioned in such discussions. Nor is the damaging psychological effect on parents discussed.
The analysis being offered in support of the proposed change is highly asymmetric. There is no suggestion that social workers themselves might face prosecution under the new law if their actions damaged the child’s psychological well-being; or that their actions are already doing so in many cases, and that they would therefore have to modify their behaviour if the new law came in.
It seems likely that, after an initial period, a law as vague as this would come to be used to express all manner of disagreement with parental behaviour, and as an excuse for agents of the collective to behave in a destructive manner; not merely in ways which fit with the current image of preventing psychological cruelty, such as deliberate humiliation.
There are many parental practices with which ‘expert’ views on child rearing disagree. Why should all these not also be conveniently classified, in due course, as ‘cruel’? Particularly in a climate where activists such as the Child Action Group (apparently the main driving force behind the current proposal) are constantly pressing for change, in the direction of more activities being recognised as things the legal system should prevent.
For example, it is commonly held to be good for children that they be ‘allowed to fail’. Rather like the phrase ‘emotional cruelty’, this can be interpreted in an almost infinite number of ways. The American Enterprise Institute, describing the book Real Education by Charles Murray (author of The Bell Curve), says that the aim for educating America’s elite should be ‘not to pamper them, but to hold their feet to the fire’. Oxford High School for Girls was recently said to have introduced tests in which it is impossible to score 100 per cent, in order that the girls ‘understand it is acceptable not to be “little Miss Perfect”.’
I would myself regard educational policies such as these as abusive and damaging. Yet ironically, with a law as vague as the one proposed, parents could conceivably be accused of abuse if they fail to adopt such policies themselves. Once it is seen as acceptable for the legal system to adjudicate on the psychological aspects of parenting, one might easily find that nebulous concepts such as ‘allowed to fail’ are being used to attack individual parents’ approaches to child rearing, and hence to break up families.
The idea of blaming parents (but not agents of the collective) for emotional abuse is only making explicit what has been going on, in practice, since the onset of the Oppressive (‘Welfare’) State in 1945.
My parents were accused at various times of ‘not letting me’ meet enough people, or have enough social life; of ‘pushing’ me to get on with taking exams fast, which was actually what I wanted to do, and suffered from being prevented from doing; not compelling me to join the Girl Guides, and so on.
The pressure placed on them – to force me to become a different person, and appear reconciled to arrangements made against my will – successfully ruined my prospects in life and their lives as well, since my father’s health broke down and he was forced to retire early on a breakdown allowance. There was no law at the time of the kind now proposed, or perhaps I might have been taken into care, which would no doubt have been extremely damaging both to my parents and to myself.
I would certainly describe as emotional abuse – or, indeed, as persecution – the pressures placed on my parents, and on myself, by agents of the collective. I would also describe the attitudes of the schools and education authorities involved as sadistic and abusive.
My unfunded independent university, which could be publishing analyses of the complex issues involved in the area of social policy, has been effectively censored and suppressed for decades. Meanwhile, misleading and tendentious material on the topic continues to pour out from socially recognised sources.