Delaware has become the very first state to pass a controversial law that effectively outlaws the corporal discipline of children by their parents. Senate bill 234 was signed into law by Governor Jack Markell on September 12.
Sponsored by Delaware’s Senate Majority Leader Patricia Blevins, the bill redefines child abuse laws to include any act that causes “pain.”
The legislation classifies child abuse as a separate crime in the state and increases penalties in child abuse cases. Prior to the new law, child abuse cases were prosecuted under the same statute dealing with assault by abuse or neglect that applied to adult victims. “Assaults against children are different than assaults against adults,” said Sen. Blevins. “So, it is important to make this a standalone crime.”
The new law creates three levels of child abuse. The first and second degrees are considered felonies and penalties increase if the victim is under four years old and suffers from intellectual or developmental disabilities. Parents who are guilty of committing “physical injury,” or “pain,” to a child under the age of 18 would be guilty of a class A misdemeanor and subjected to a year in prison as a result. One who is charged with causing pain to a child under the age of three would be guilty of a class G felony and subjected to two years imprisonment.