The Cinderella Law would make such elements explicit. There is a proposal to replace the term ‘wilful’, for example, with ‘reckless’ which, proponents argue, would remove the difficulty surrounding the notion of intent. More generally the act would seek to make it a crime for a guardian of a child to do anything that deliberately harms the “physical intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development.’’
At first glance this all sounds reasonable enough (although the wording in that form has enough wiggle room to get almost anything through). Particularly welcome is the acknowledgement of the complexity of children and the relationship of that stage of life to the person we become. We are not simply bags of flesh that absorb, succumb or recover from physical harm. We are complicated creatures and our emotional lives affect us in profound ways. They can scar us with deep invisible roads that lead to self-harm, suicide, drug addiction, dysfunctional relationships and more. They can even turn us into the very thing we despise, victim into perpetrator. Such a law cannot therefore be faulted in its aspiration or moral character. But, and this is the bit where meaning well and the real world bump up against one another, a broad sense that some people are getting away with doing bad stuff is not enough to rubber stamp such a law. Consider some of the more worrying rumblings of dissent that have occurred recently in some secretive proceedings within the care system. In one instance, after a mother reported an in-relationship instance of rape, her two children were taken away by social services. She was deemed to be unstable (subsequently disproven) and somehow complicit (by presumably not picking her partner carefully enough) and therefore guilty, at least in part, of exposing her child to ’emotional abuse’ and the ‘risk of future emotional abuse’. She has defied a gag order to speak out against this decision, but there is a larger number of silent victims of domestic abuse for whom this is routinely occurring. One wonders what would happen if the changes proposed by the campaign group Action for Children (they seek to amend the law to define emotional abuse as “including exposing the child to violence against others in the same household”) were enacted?