Should you be prosecuted for feeding junk food to your child?
By Charles Foster
Fast food permanently reduces children’s IQ, a recent and unsurprising study reports.
What should be done? The answer is ethically and legally simple. Parents who feed their children junk food, knowing of the attendant risks, are child-abusers, and should be prosecuted. If you hit a child, bruising it, you are guilty of a criminal offence. A bruise on a child’s leg is of far less lasting significance than the brain damage produced by requiring a child to ingest toxic junk. A child injured by a negligent or malicious parent can also bring civil proceedings against the parent.
The findings of the recent study mirror those in other jurisdictions. And now that they have been widely disseminated it will be hard for parents to plead ignorance.
It is said that junk food consumption is disproportionately high in lower socio-economic groups. Whether or not that’s true, it is not (subject to one caveat), a reason not to criminalise the practice of child-poisoning. The caveat is economic: if it really were the case that parents mis-fed their children because they couldn’t afford to feed them properly, it would of course be wrong to stigmatise them. But I doubt that’s really the case. People mis-feed their children out of ignorance (until now), and lazy habit.
The forensic reality is, of course, that it’s going to be difficult to characterise the administration of a bowl of MSG as a chemical assault, or to squeeze it within the definition of an offence such as s. 23 of the Offence Against the Person Act 1861 – which prohibits the unlawful and malicious administration of a poison or other destructive or noxious thing so as to endanger life or to inflict grievous bodily harm. But surely it’s a kind of child neglect.
Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 provides, inter alia:
(1)If any person who has attained the age of sixteen years and has responsibility for any child or young person under that age, wilfully assaults, ill-treats, neglects, abandons, or exposes him, or causes or procures him to be assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, abandoned, or exposed, in a manner likely to cause him unnecessary suffering or injury to health (including injury to or loss of sight, or hearing, or limb, or organ of the body, and any mental derangement), that person shall be guilty of [an offence] …..
(2)For the purposes of this section—
(a)a parent or other person legally liable to maintain a child or young person, or the legal guardian of a child or young person, shall be deemed to have neglected him in a manner likely to cause injury to his health if he has failed to provide adequate food….. or if, having been unable otherwise to provide such food….. he has failed to take steps to procure it to be provided under the enactments applicable in that behalf….’
It seems that junk food causes ‘injury to health’ within the meaning of s. 1(1). That’s all you need for a conviction. More legally contentious is subsection (2). The cited portion is aimed at preventing malnutrition, but one might, just, argue that junk food is not ‘adequate’, within the meaning of s. 1(2). If so, few potential defendants will be able to take comfort from s. 1(2), since decent food will generally be easily available.
In short, the burger and fries might be a matter for the police.