More than 1,000 South Yorkshire teens need protection because of a legal loophole which makes it impossible to prosecute adults who abuse them.
Some 1,158 teenagers in the region are deemed to be vulnerable by social services, and therefore at greater risk of cruelty including sexual exploitation.
The Department for Education figures reveal there are a worrying 430 ‘in need’ 16 and 17-year olds in Doncaster, 377 in Sheffield, 239 in Rotherham and 112 in Barnsley.
Now The Children’s Society is calling for action because as it stands, criminal law for child cruelty only protects youngsters until their 16th birthday.
It means 16 and 17-year-olds are treated as adults by the law and ‘forced to fend for themselves’.
Matthew Reed, chief executive of the charity, said: “It is nonsensical and unacceptable that adults cannot be prosecuted for behaviour against children aged 16 or 17 that would be considered cruelty if the victim was 15.
“If MPs are serious about stopping child cruelty – including child sexual exploitation – they must act to close this legal loophole when it is debated in parliament in the new year.”
The Children’s Society argues police would find it much harder to prosecute a negligent or abusive parent or guardian of a child in this age group.
The charity also claims teenagers aged 16 and 17 who experience neglect at home are often failing to receive adequate protection from professionals because they are mistakenly believed to be more resilient and able to cope with stress.
The Children’s Society wants MPs to close the loophole by extending protection to include 16 and 17-year-olds when it debates the Serious Crime Bill next month.
The move would involve changing the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 to increase the age a child can be a victim of cruelty from 15 to 17, to bring criminal law in line with child protection and welfare legislation.