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29 December 2014

Teenagers at risk of cruelty

Teenagers at risk of cruelty

A legal loophole that makes it impossible to prosecute adults for neglect or ill-treatment of 16 and 17-year-olds needs urgent change, The Children’s Society claim.

A change in the law could protect more than 40,000 vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds from cruelty, including sexual exploitation.

The call is for MPs to close the loophole by extending protections against child cruelty to this age group when it debates the Serious Crime Bill in the House of Commons on 5 January. 

The Children’s Society believe this loophole means children aged 16 and 17 are forced to fend for themselves, because they are viewed as adults in this law. 

Police will find it more difficult to prosecute a negligent or abusive parent or guardian of a child in this age group. The move would involve changing the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to increase the age at which a child can be a victim of cruelty from 15 to 17. 

Last year, according to official figures, 42,260 children aged 16 or 17 in England were deemed by social services to be at “in need”, and at greater risk. Research 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.

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. 

Matthew Reed, chief executive of The Children’s Society, 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.”