ADULTS who commit acts of emotional cruelty against children in their care will face the same threat of jail as those guilty of physical neglect, under new reforms backed by Swindon South MP Robert Buckland.

The Government will introduce the change to child neglect legislation in the Queen’s Speech in June.

The move follows a campaign to change current criminal law in England and Wales, led by charity Action for Children and MPs from all three main parties in Westminster, including Mr Buckland.

The new legislation would make it a crime to do anything that deliberately harmed a child's "physical, intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development".

Parents found guilty under the law change could face up to ten years in prison, the maximum term in child neglect cases.

New offences could include forcing a child to witness domestic violence, making a child a scapegoat or forcing degrading punishments upon him or her.

“Together with MPs of all parties, I have been supporting this campaign and I am pleased that the Government is looking at reforms to criminal law,” said Mr Buckland.

“The legislation is old – it was first written in the Victorian times – and was confined to physical abuse but there is more and more evidence emerging of serious conduct resulting in emotional harm and neglect of children, such as parents terrorising a young child. The scars may not be visible but that does not mean they are not there.

“What we wanted was for criminal law to keep up to date with what is currently happening in civil courts.

“This is about dealing with significant risk of harm and a reform of the law could help protect many more children.”

Neglect is the most common reason for a child protection referral across the UK and emotional abuse is more common in these cases than physical harm, according to the Department for Education.

Action for Children's chief executive Sir Tony Hawkhead added: “This is a monumental step forward for thousands of children who we know suffer from emotional abuse and countless others whose desperate situations have yet to come to light.

“I’ve met children who have been scapegoated in their families, constantly humiliated and made to feel unloved. The impact is devastating and can lead to life-long mental health problems and, in some cases, suicide.

“We are one of the last countries in the western world to recognise all forms of child abuse as a crime. Years of campaigning have been rewarded, the Government has listened and this law will change lives.”