Civil Liberties

New Law Lets Courts Decide If You Are a Sensitive Enough Parent


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A new law in Great Britain could criminalize normal parenting—the kind practice by people who are not perfect every single second of every day. The so-called "Cinderella Law" expands the definition of child cruelty to include any form of "emotional, psychological or intangible harm," writes barrister Jon Holbrook in SpikedOnline:

Under the amended offence it will be possible for a parent to be convicted of: smacking a child; not providing it with regular meals; leaving a crying baby alone on the petrol forecourt while visiting the station checkout; even ignoring teenage angst. Indeed, the wayward and emotionally fragile teenager, not to mention the teenager who dislikes his parents' style of parenting, should have little difficulty making a case for his parents to be prosecuted. Defenders of the new law may guffaw at these examples, and claim that such prosecutions could never happen, but they are wrong.

Holbrook goes on to describe a few cases of parents arrested for such everyday "crimes," including Tom Haines, a dad who let his two-year-old wait in the car for 10 minutes while he ran into the store. He was convicted of child cruelty:

Fortunately, Tim Haines had his conviction overturned on appeal after the Crown Court judge, on hearing what Haines had done, asked the question: 'Is that supposed to be a crime?' It ought to have been obvious that Haines did not treat his daughter in a criminal way. Yet it clearly was not obvious to either the police who arrested him, the Crown Prosecution Service that prosecuted him or the judge in the magistrates' court who convicted him.

And that was before the Cinderella Law. That's why we should not allow the definition of "cruelty" to expand any further. It's already stretched too far.

Until recent times, child cruelty was always understood as physical harm—beating, starving, molesting. Things that parents did that were outright wrong and directly resulted in pain. When we start arresting parents for something that could go wrong, in the very worst case scenario—"What if the child is snatched from the car?"—no parent is safe. And that's doubly true if the courts resort to conjecture about the psychological impact of a parenting style they disdain: "What if the child doesn't feel nurtured enough?" Does forgetting to put a love note in a child's lunch trigger a police investigation?

The state shouldn't decide how to parent.

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