Administration bill expands Child Abuse bill to include “child neglect”
A woman who uses an illegal substance while pregnant, causing the new baby to suffer medical problems, is liable to be charged with child neglect under a provision of an administration bill which further criminalizes “child abuse” and establishes a new statute dealing with “neglect of a child”.
The administration bill was introduced late last month in the Fono and is pending in both committees at the Senate and House. After Samoa News reported earlier this week on the Senate hearing dealing with Child Abuse, readers wanted to know more about what is considered “child neglect” as proposed by the administration, as not much was mentioned about this provision in the first story.
According to the provision on child neglect, a mother is guilty of child neglect, if she uses an illegal substance while pregnant, as may be evidenced by the presence of an illegal substance in the child’s or mother’s bodily fluids or bodily substances, withdrawal symptoms in the child at birth, or medical effects of developmental delays during the child’s first year of life that medically indicate prenatal exposure to a controlled substance.
The bill also states that a parent, guardian or other person legally charged with the care of a child is guilty of child neglect if the person purposely or knowingly:
• fails or refuses to provide a child with necessary food, clothing, shelter, mental health, guidance or well-being;
• fails to provide the necessary education to a child as required by law;
• fails to protect a child from conditions or actions that seriously endanger or can be injurious to a child’s physical, mental or emotional health;
• fails to provide the necessary supervision or childcare arrangements for a child; and
• abandons or ceases providing care for a child without making appropriate provisions for substitute care.
The parent, guardian, or other person legally charged with the care or custody of a child is guilty of child neglect if the person knowingly allows another person to mistreat or abuse a child.
Child neglect is a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by one year imprisonment, $1,000 fine, or both. Some lawmakers believe this punishment should be revisited to increase the punishment, for the goal of deterring parents and legal guardians from neglecting children in their care.
Fono legal counsel Nathaniel Savali told senators last week the child neglect provision is needed due to the lack of a specific statute in current laws. He explained it is a known fact that kids are left on their own at home, or put in the car when a parent goes shopping or while the parent is out playing bingo. He said this new statute — child neglect — deals with these important issues in order to protect children.
The Senate Judicial Committee plans to call another hearing soon to hear testimony from the Attorney General’s Office on both child neglect and child abuse issues.
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