I read with interest the article in The Independent around the ‘Cinderella Law’
‘The call for the Cinderella Law represents the latest phase of a campaign to continually expand the range of parental behaviour that can be condemned as abusive.
These days, parents who smoke or drink alcohol in front of children risk being characterised as child-abusers. Opponents of the tradition of male circumcision condemn Jewish and Muslim parents as abusers of children.
Health activists denounce parents of overweight children for the same offence. Mothers and fathers who educate their children to embrace the family’s religion have been characterised as child abusers by anti-faith campaigners. Precisely because the abuse of children is regarded as such a terrible crime, advocates of a variety of different causes frame their campaign in the language of child protection.
The concept of emotional cruelty or abuse trumps all other forms of parental misbehaviour, for it embraces just about every type of ambiguous, emotionally charged encounter within the family. Campaigners devoted to the criminalisation of emotional abuse have deliberately defined it in an amorphous and expansive manner. According to the different guidelines drawn up on this subject, emotional abuse can refer to virtually every parental failing.
The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children offers a definition of emotional abuse that includes some very real and unambiguous acts of harm, such as “conveying to a child that they are worthless or unloved, inadequate”, but it also includes forms of behaviour that, depending on the context, may or may not be harmful to a child.
For example, the NSPCC includes in its definition of emotional abuse the “making of fun” of what a child says or how they communicate. I am not sure what universe the NSPCC inhabits, but in the real world, the making fun of one another is the stuff of family life. When parents and children interact, they are likely to make jokes at each others’ expense.
Where does good-natured banter end and destructive verbal joking begin? Whatever the answer is to this question, it will not be found in the law courts. The NSPCC takes no chances with its definition of emotional abuse. It castigates parents who don’t take their children seriously and who wilfully or otherwise neglect them. But if you take your child too seriously and become obsessed with their welfare, you also stand accused of emotional abuse.’
Surely there must be a way forward that’s balanced, sensible and practical – children need our love, care, respect and protection while making sure that those most vulnerable are picked up by teachers, doctors, childminders and all those involved in looking after the gift that is a child.