There is no single piece of legislation, covering the subject of child protection in the UK. Rather, there are a number of laws and guidance that are continuously being updated or amended. The Children and Young Persons Act (CYPA) 1933 is one of the older pieces of child protection legislation. Some of its parts are still in force today.
1. Why was it introduced? (Political/Sociological Context)
The historical context, in which the CYPA 1933 was enacted was the interwar, post-Great Depression period. During WWI, the crime rate among children had decreased. However, it was on the rise again during the Great Depression in 1920s. Although middle-class children came before the courts, working-class children were disproportionately represented there, in particular the boys, as their parents could not provide adequate supervision to them and they had limited access to leisure facilities and supervised play. This was due to the need for parents to work or care for younger children.
The early decades of the twentieth century built upon the Victorian legacy. Under the Victorian interpretation, the family was seen as the basis of social order. Later on, this translated into a scientific search of the link between defective family relationships and defective discipline and between poverty and crime. These arguments influenced key government committees. In January 1925, the then Home Secretary, William Joynson-Hicks, appointed Sir Thomas Molony to investigate the treatment of young offenders. The Molony’s Committee Report was the basis of the CYPA 1933. When Committee reported in 1927, it put an emphasis on the idea of the welfare of children. It recognised that it was possible for a child to be a victim of social and psychological conditions. In this respect, the report called for a full examination of the family circumstances and schooling of young offenders.
The emphasis on welfare in the Molony Committee Report was behind the bringing closer together of the provisions on the delinquent and the neglected in the CYPA 1933. The idea behind the law was to help, rather than punish young people through the courts, which was expected to lead to less reluctance to bring child offenders before them.
Another tendency that could be observed at the time was that children were not committing crimes only because of poverty. Some were doing it because they had psychological problems. The courts increasingly started to refer children and young people for psychological tests. This practice was influenced by the Child Study Movement and the setting up of the first Child Guidance Clinic in East London in 1927.
2. What was the aim of the Act? (Legal Context)
One of the main purposes of the CYPA 1933 was to consolidate all existing child protection legislation at the time into a single act.
By 1933, the legislators had taken measures to protect children from exploitation in factories. The act repeals some of these and re-enacts them with various changes, e.g. cutting down the hours of employment, leaving the employment opportunities to children at certain ages, clarifying that the schooling of children takes precedence over their employment.
The CYPA 1933 implemented the idea behind the Molony Committee Report that there ought to be no reluctance to bring children and young persons before a youth court. Much of the Act is concerned with the idea of preventing children and young persons from drifting into crime by getting hold of delinquents as young as possible, trying them as quietly and anonymously as possible and then sentencing them to special treatment designed to teach them to be responsible citizens. In this respect, very wide powers were given to different bodies and persons to bring a child or young person before a court. These varied from arrest to bringing any child in need of protection before the court.
The act aimed at setting up special youth courts in which the judges are specially qualified for dealing with children and young people. The predominant consideration of these courts was intended to be the welfare of the minor concerned and they were given a wide range of measures they could prescribe, such as commitment to an approved school, care by a fit person and other lesser punishments. This was to happen with as much confidentiality as possible as the general public was to be excluded from the proceedings and the newspapers to be precluded from publishing material on any trial for an offence under the CYPA 1933.
3. What main changes did it make to the law?
In s. 44, the CYPA 1933 for the first time laid down the principle that in dealing with a child or young person, the magistrates have to consider the welfare of these persons and take steps to remove them from undesirable surroundings.
Ss. 39 and 49 place restrictions on the reports of proceedings in which children or young persons are concerned. Journalists may not give the name, address, school and any other details likely to lead to the identification of the offender and publish their still image. The rationale behind this provision is to prevent any potential future jeopardisation of the child’s chances of employment.
Ss. 45 to 48 significantly broadened the powers of the youth courts. Under s. 46, the youth courts are to hear almost all cases involving children or young people, save for only a very limited number of exceptions set out in s. 46(1).
S. 7 for the first time made it illegal for adults to sell tobacco to underage persons.
The Act introduced a number of other substantive changes. For instance, the age of execution was raised to eighteen; in s. 50, the age of criminal responsibility was raised from seven to eight (and later – ten) and in s. 18(1)(a), the minimum working age was set at fourteen.
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