Cam­paign­ing for pro­tec­tion

Buckinghamshire Advertiser - - FOCUS -

THE Chil­dren’s So­ci­ety is call­ing for a change in the law to pro­tect more than 6,000 vul­ner­a­ble 16 and 17-year-olds in the south east from cru­elty, in­clud­ing sex­ual ex­ploita­tion.

While most English law treats any­one un­der 18 as a child, the crim­i­nal law for child cru­elty, which dates back 80 years, only pro­tects chil­dren from ne­glect or ill-treat­ment un­til their 16th birth­day.

It means chil­dren aged 16 and 17 are treated as adults and forced to fend for them­selves.

Po­lice would find it much harder to pros­e­cute a neg­li­gent or abu­sive par­ent or guardian of a child in this age group.

It also sends a mes­sage that they do not re­quire the same pro­tec­tion as younger chil­dren.

Re­search by The Chil­dren’s So­ci­ety sug­gests that teenagers in this age range who ex­pe­ri­ence ne­glect at home are of­ten fail­ing to re­ceive ad­e­quate pro­tec­tion from pro­fes­sion­als be­cause they are mis­tak­enly be­lieved to be more re­silient and able to cope with stress.

In 2010, a cou­ple were jailed for child cru­elty for al­low­ing their adopted chil­dren to be abused by pae­dophiles. One of the girls was over 13 and another un­der 10. If the girls had been 16 or 17 the pros­e­cu­tion for child cru­elty would not have been pos­si­ble.

In 2013, ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cial fig­ures, 6,680 chil­dren aged 16 or 17 in the South East were deemed by so­cial ser­vices to be “in need”, and there­fore at greater risk of abuse and ne­glect. Across Eng­land the to­tal reached 42,260.

It is this group – some of the most vul­ner­a­ble teenagers in the coun­try – who would stand to gain most from a change in the law.

The Chil­dren’s So­ci­ety is ask­ing MPs to close this loop­hole by ex­tend­ing pro­tec­tions against child cru­elty to this age group when it de­bates the Se­ri­ous Crime Bill early in the New Year.

The move would in­volve chang­ing the out­dated Chil­dren and Young Per­sons Act 1933 to in­crease the age at which a child can be a vic­tim of cru­elty from 15 to 17, to bring crim­i­nal law in line with the rest of child pro­tec­tion leg­is­la­tion and wel­fare leg­is­la­tion for the first time and of­fer­ing pro­tec­tion to all chil­dren.

Chief ex­ec­u­tive of The Chil­dren’s So­ci­ety, Matthew Reed, said: “It is non­sen­si­cal and un­ac­cept­able that adults can­not be pros­e­cuted for be­hav­iour against chil­dren aged 16 or 17 that would be con­sid­ered cru­elty if the vic­tim was 15.

“If MPs are se­ri­ous about stop­ping child cru­elty – in­clud­ing child sex­ual ex­ploita­tion – they must act to close this le­gal loop­hole when it is de­bated in Par­lia­ment in the New Year.” IN 2012, a woman was jailed for sub­ject­ing three chil­dren un­der 16 to a cat­a­logue

of cru­elty over sev­eral years by kick­ing

them, slap­ping them, bathing them in cold

wa­ter and goug­ing their eyes. One of the chil­dren was scalded with

hair straight­en­ers, de­prived of food and

goaded into stamp­ing on another young­ster. The

woman was jailed for six years after a jury found

her guilty of 11 counts of child cru­elty. Had the chil­dren been 16 or 17 it would

have been im­pos­si­ble to charge her with

this of­fence.

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