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What is Cruelty?

Updated on January 17, 2010

Cruelty, in law, has no narrowly defined or technical meaning but is a generic term applicable to all categories of willful mistreatment, particularly the infliction of unjustifiable physical pain or suffering. Cruelty to children is punishable not only by criminal action but by removal of the mistreated children from the custody of parents, guardians, or others who are guilty of abusing diem. Depending on the wording of the particular statute involved, cruelty may include the failure to furnish food, clothing, shelter, or medical care, as well as the infliction of physical abuse.

In the law of domestic relations, cruelty may be a ground for either separation or absolute divorce. Among the acts that may be considered by the courts as cruel treatment are conduct endangering physical safety and health, certain kinds of verbal abuse, and the infliction of mental suffering.

Cruelty to animals was not a crime under the early common law, but at the present time statutes in both England and the United States make it a criminal offense to torture or torment living creatures. Among other unlawful acts against animals are willful or wanton injury, neglect, or purposely inflicted ill treatment. Many states have societies for die prevention of cruelty to animals that are frequently supported by public funds to some extent and sometimes have limited power to enforce the laws on this subject.


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