New child neglect laws included in wide-ranging Queen’s speech

Stronger laws to protect vulnerable children and people at risk of child cruelty, sexual exploitation and female genital mutilation have been announced in the Queen’s Speech.

The Serious Crime Bill will extend the definition of child cruelty to ensure it covers extreme cases of psychological harm.

Parents in England and Wales who emotionally neglect their children could, for the first time, be prosecuted.

Action for Children’s chief executive, Sir Tony Hawkhead, said the new legislation will change lives.

He said: “Today marks a monumental and overdue step forward for children and our efforts to protect them from severe emotional abuse.

“Children who are made to feel worthless, powerless and unloved by their families will now have the law on their side. We are one of the last countries in the Western world to recognise this form of child cruelty – the time for change is long overdue.

“Emotional abuse can create permanent scars, leading to mental health problems and, in extreme cases, to suicide. This legislation will change lives.”

A new offence of possessing paedophilic manuals is to be created along with ensuring the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 – which deals with cruelty to under 16 year olds – clearly states that cruelty to a child that is likely to cause psychological harm is a crime.

The Bill will also extend the reach of the offences in the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003 so that they apply to habitual as well as permanent UK residents.

It is hoped it will help legal officials to bring to justice criminals who target vulnerable young women and children.

An estimated 66,000 women in the UK have undergone FGM and more than 20,000 girls under 15 are thought to be at risk of the practice.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) and other crime-fighting organisations will also be given stronger powers to try to tackle criminals.

This includes the power to seize, detain and destroy criminal substances suspected of being used as cutting agents for illegal drugs.

And a Slavery Bill will make the reporting of human trafficking a legal duty, introduce an Anti-Slavery Commissioner and increase sentences for those found guilty of trafficking people into the country, often for prostitution or illicit work.