The Children’s Society says that, according to government figures, almost 25,000 teenagers aged 16 and 17 in England – around 1 in 50 – are at risk of abuse or neglect, which is a higher proportion than any other age group.
The charity is campaigning for a change to existing child cruelty laws – which currently only allow prosecutions to be brought for neglect, ill-treatment and abandonment relating to children aged 15 or under.
The figures were released as part of the charity’s call for the government to make changes to the Serious Crime Bill, which was debated by MPs last week.
Furthermore, a survey of more than 1,000 parents, carried out on behalf of the Children’s Society, shows that 82 per cent would support a change in the law to protect older teens.
A statement from the charity said that 16 and 17-year-old victims are “falling through the gaps”.
It adds: “Teenagers aged 16 and 17 who are on the cusp of childhood and adulthood face unique challenges that leave them vulnerable to neglect and abuse. With education or training compulsory until the age of 18, most teenagers live at home and are dependent on their families for emotional and financial support, leaving them open to abuse and neglect.
“And compared to younger children, they have greater freedom but lack the life experience of adults which makes them a target for predatory adults who may sexually exploit them or involve them in crime.”
Lily Caprani, strategy and policy director of the Children’s Society, said: “It is nonsensical that children aged 16 and 17 are at most risk of abuse and neglect, and yet aren’t given the same legal protection as younger children.
“Victims of cruelty and abuse can experience devastating mental and physical harm that can blight the rest of their lives.”
She continued: “In the eyes of the law, they are children until they are 18 yet the law does not sufficiently protect them from abuse and cruelty.
“We are urgently calling on the government make it a criminal offence for a parent or guardian to abuse or neglect any 16 or 17-year-old who lives with them, and for Child Abduction Warning Notices to apply to 16 and 17-year-olds.”