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Scotland to criminalise emotional abuse and neglect of children

Government will consult on legislation later this year

New legislation to criminalise emotional abuse and neglect of children will be introduced in Scotland, Minister for Childcare and Early Years Mark McDonald has announced.

New legislation will update the provisions in section 12 of the Children and Young Persons (Scotland) Act 1937, to recognise the impact of emotional abuse and neglect, as well as physical harm. The Scottish Government will consult on the scope and nature of the legislation later this year.

In a statement to Parliament, Mr McDonald confirmed the move as part of a 'robust range of actions to further strengthen child protection' following the publication of two reports.

In response to the review of the child protection system led by Catherine Dyer, and the Child Protection Improvement Programme Report, the Scottish Government will:

The Minister said:

"This government is determined to ensure more of Scotland's children get the best possible start in life. This means protecting the most vulnerable in our communities from harm, abuse and neglect.

"Catherine Dyer's review concludes that, in general, our child protection system works well. However, both she and the Child Protection Improvement Programme Report have identified opportunities to strengthen all aspects of the system to better protect our children.

"I have accepted all of these recommendations in full and set out how they will be implemented swiftly and effectively. Importantly, we will introduce new legislation to make the emotional abuse and neglect of children a criminal offence, updating an 80-year old law whose archaic language has resulted in difficulties prosecuting offences."

Catherine Dyer's system review was asked to consider whether statutory underpinning was required for key aspects of the child protection system but recommended a range of other action before moving to legislate.

Mr McDonald continued:

"I have made clear where I expect to see improvements in Scotland's child protection system, particularly in relation to consistency of approach. If in a year's time there is little evidence of real and substantial progress then I will not hesitate to bring forward legislation to provide an appropriate statutory underpinning."

Responding to the announcement Children in Scotland Chief Executive Jackie Brock, who was a member of the review group, said:

"Children in Scotland was pleased to be represented in the Child Protection Systems review group and I am delighted that the Scottish Government has accepted its recommendations in full.

"We commend the Scottish Government for recognising the need to strengthen our systems while acknowledging there are already strong foundations in place. But we cannot be complacent. I therefore warmly welcome the commitment for continued monitoring to ensure the recommendations are fully met and actioned."