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18 December 2014, 07:23
A legal loophole makes it impossible to prosecute adults for neglect or ill-treatment of 16 and 17-year-olds, a charity has warned.
The Children's Society is calling for a change in the law to protect almost 1,400 vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds in Norfolk and Suffolk from cruelty - including sexual exploitation.
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.
The charity cited a case in 2010, in which a couple were jailed for child cruelty for allowing their adopted children to be abused by paedophiles.
One of the girls was over 13 and another under 10, however, if the girls had been 16 or 17 the prosecution for child cruelty would not have been possible.
The Children's Society said last year 42,260 children aged 16 or 17 in England were deemed by social services to be at ``in need'', and therefore at greater risk of abuse and neglect.
The charity is asking MPs to close this apparent loophole by extending protections against child cruelty to this age group when it debates the Serious Crime Bill early in the New Year.
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.''
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.