Child Abuse and Neglect
Parents are responsible for taking care of their children. Raising children is hard work and can be especially challenging when parents are also dealing with the end of their relationship with the other parent. Information about child abuse and neglect can help parents understand what the law requires of them. For more information about caring for children when parents are no longer together see Parenting after Separation and Divorce. For information on where to find community help with parenting see Resources.
Neglect occurs when a child’s physical or emotional needs are not met. Meeting those needs includes doing many things such as…
- making sure children get enough to eat
- taking them to a doctor when they need one
- providing proper supervision
- giving attention and affection
Abuse occurs when a child is harmed physically, sexually or emotionally by someone’s actions. If a parent harms a child physically by doing things like shaking, kicking or punching the child it is abuse. If a parent harms a child emotionally by doing things like constantly criticizing or threatening the child it is also abuse. Saskatchewan has laws that protect children. These laws allow agencies to intervene to protect children who are being abused or neglected and require anyone who believes that a child is being abused or neglected to report it. The purpose is to promote the well-being of children who need protection by offering, wherever appropriate, services designed to maintain, support and preserve families in the least disruptive way possible. For more information see Child Protection.
Leaving Children Alone
Our laws do not set an exact age at which you can leave a child alone. Children cannot be left alone if it would endanger their safety. When it is safe is a matter of judgment. Parents would want to consider things like their child’s age and ability to handle any situations that may arise, how long the child will be alone and what the child will have to do while the parent is away (i.e. make supper, look after other kids, etc.).
If parents choose to use physical forms of punishment (such as spanking) it is important for them to understand when this can be considered physical abuse and an assault under the Criminal Code. Generally speaking any kind of physical force intentionally applied to another person is an assault, although a person would not likely be charged for very minor physical force applied to someone where there is no injury – for example pushing past someone in a crowded line-up. There is also an exception to the offence of assault in the Criminal Code that allows parents, and people who stand in the place of parents, to use reasonable force to correct a child.
The Supreme Court of Canada has considered this section of the Criminal Code and set out guidelines that clearly limit the use of force to discipline or correct a child. When physical punishment is used…
- it must be intended to educate or correct the child and/or intended to restrain, control or express disapproval of the child’s behaviour – outbursts of violence against a child because the parent is angry or frustrated are not excused by this section of the Criminal Code
- the child must be capable of benefiting from the discipline – children under two are always considered too young to benefit from this type of discipline; the court also ruled that physical discipline is not appropriate for teenagers
- the force applied must be a “minor corrective force” that is short-lived and not harmful
- objects such as belts, rulers, etc. cannot be used
- it cannot include any slaps or blows to the head
- it cannot result in injury
- it cannot be degrading or inhumane
Discipline that falls outside of these limits could form the basis of an assault charge.