Neglect laws generally they fall into two broad categories: laws aimed at preventing the abuse of a child or dependent and laws aimed at preventing the abuse of the elderly or others who are hospitalized or institutionalized. There have been neglect laws protecting children for many decades, but neglect laws protecting the elderly and others have become more common in recent years. Although the prevalence of child abuse and neglect is widely known, it is estimated that millions of elderly people are also abused or neglected every year. Neglect laws are intended to deter those who would take advantage of societies' most vulnerable members as well as punish those who are not deterred.
Each jurisdiction determines what constitutes neglect, but certain commonalities tend to exist. Violations of neglect laws usually are the result of someone's failure to do something or the result of an omission, not because of an overt act. For instance, failing to ensure that one's children attend school, failing to provide adequate medical care and failing to nurture one's own child are common situations that would likely rise to the level of criminal neglect.
These laws vary widely by country or region. In many parts of the world, neglect of the elderly or neglect of children is often overlooked or overtly accepted. Many international and national organizations devote vast resources to lobbying for legislation that will protect children and the elderly from neglect. Where neglect laws do exist, they can be difficult to enforce because of the nature of the victims. Children and elderly victims are frequently too afraid to report neglect. They are also often financially or emotionally dependent upon the abuser.
Most caregivers are aware of the vulnerable nature of those in their care, which makes those dependents easier to neglect, in many cases. Neglect covers a number of situations, including emotional neglect, educational neglect, financial neglect and physical or medical neglect. Failing to provide reasonable care to anyone who is dependent upon that person can be considered neglect in most jurisdictions.
Neglect laws can carry serious consequences for the perpetrator. In some cases, neglect can be charged as a felony, subjecting the abuser to the possibility of a lengthy prison sentence. In most cases, the type and severity of the neglect will play a role in determining how the crime is charged and therefore what sentence the abuser faces if convicted. In addition to incarceration, a conviction for neglect can also cause the perpetrator to lose his or her professional license in many situations.