A Victorian Liberal Nationals Coalition Government will act to protect vulnerable children with new laws requiring adults who have custody of or care for a child or live in the same household to take action if they know or believe the child is being abused, Coalition Leader Ted Baillieu said today.
A Coalition Government will also create a new offence carrying a long jail term where a child dies due to child abuse and an adult living in the same household is aware of the abuse and its seriousness yet fails to take action.
“The Coalition’s new laws will give innocent and vulnerable Victorian children the protection they deserve,” Mr Baillieu said.
“Violence against children is an appalling offence and the most innocent and vulnerable deserve all the protection the law can provide.
“It is completely unacceptable that someone having the care of a child, or living in the same household, can know the child is being abused and yet stand by and do nothing.
“If someone knows or believes a child is being abused, they need to protect the child by intervening to prevent the abuse, removing the child from the abusive environment and/or reporting the abuse to the relevant authorities.
“The Coalition’s laws will establish a new principle about protecting children that is as important as the principle established in the 1990s that professionals who have contact with children have an obligation to take action to protect the child by reporting suspected abuse.
“Governments and government agencies must do all they can to protect vulnerable children and to support victims of family violence, but children also need the support and protection of the adults around them who know they are at risk,” Mr Baillieu said.
The Brumby Government claimed it would introduce tough new laws on child homicide, but instead of taking action merely changed the name of the offence of manslaughter to child homicide’when the victim is aged under six years old, without increasing penalties or even changing the definition of the offence.
Prosecutors warned at the time that this would do little to deter or prevent child homicide, and may even reduce the number of cases where child abusers are charged with or convicted of murder, as well as diminishing a child’s death by classifying it as a lesser offence than murder.
The Coalition’s offence of failing to act when living in the same household as a child who is abused and dies will be based on a similar offence introduced in the United Kingdom in 2004.
The UK legislation is based on the principle that where adult household members have frequent contact with a child or vulnerable adult and the child or vulnerable adult dies due to abuse, a person who stood by and did not prevent it must bear a degree of criminal responsibility.
The UK offence carries a penalty of up to 14 years jail, and a similar penalty will apply under the Coalition’s laws.
Lengthy jail sentences will also apply in cases where a person having care or custody of a child or living in the same household fails to act despite knowing a child is suffering sexual abuse or abuse that may result in serious injury or death.
Exact penalties will be determined after consulting the public, organisations involved with combating child abuse, the Sentencing Advisory Council and other experts and the views of organisations involved with combating child abuse and family violence.