Child abuse and endangerment has increased by nearly 8 percent in Missouri between 2009 and 2010, according to the Missouri Department of Social Services. While 8 percent represents a significant rise, this only refers to the number of reported incidences---many more cases of child endangerment go unreported. Missouri has strict laws on the books to protect children from abuse and neglect.
Physical abuse is defined by intent. If a parent or guardian knowingly inflicts pain on a child, this falls under the Missouri definition of child abuse under Missouri Statute 210.110. It is illegal for anyone---a parent, relative, neighbor or temporary caretaker---to physically abuse a child. Physical abuse includes assault, battery, coercion, harassment, sexual assault and imprisonment.
In Missouri, it is legal to use "reasonable force," such as spanking, to discipline a child. It is also legal to use force to reprimand a child if a family's religious beliefs tolerate it. However, if the child sustains serious injury and requires medical attention as a result of discipline, the state may intervene for the sake of the child's health.
Sexual abuse is considered child abuse in all states. This includes rape, molestation, incest and pornography.
Emotional abuse is considered child abuse under Missouri Statute 210.110. Emotional abuse includes all actions that result in mental injury to a child. The presence of emotional abuse is determined by deviance from normal behavior in children. Behaviors in children that may require investigation are depression, aggression and withdrawal from others.
In Missouri, leaving a child without shelter, food, clothing or doing anything to compromise a child's safety is considered neglect under statute 210.110. In a few states, Missouri included, withholding a child's education also falls under the definition of neglect.
If a child is exposed to prenatal drug use, Missouri defines this as neglect under Statute 568.045. Additionally, when a child is exposed to the manufacturing, use or distribution of illegal drugs, this is a class C felony in the state of Missouri. According to the Missouri Attorney General, a class C felony, is punishable by up to seven years in prison. If these actions occur in a ritual or ceremony, it is a class B felony, which carries a maximum punishment of 15 years in prison.
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