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Mississippi Child Abuse Laws

Despite some believing the old saying “spare the rod, spoil the child,” abusing your child is illegal across the U.S., including in Mississippi. In 2013, House Bill 1259 or the “Lonnie Smith Act” passed, reforming the Mississippi child abuse laws. Lonnie’s mother dipped him into scolding hot water when he was 3 years old, severely burning the boy and leaving him permanently disabled.

The following table outlines the criminal child abuse and mandatory reporting of child abuse laws in Mississippi.

Code Sections Mississippi Code Sections
  • 97-5-39: Felonious Abuse and/or Battery of a Child
  • 97-5-40: Condoning Child Abuse
  • 43-21-353: Duty to Inform State Agencies (of Child Abuse)
  • 43-21-105: Definitions (of Child Abuse) for Youth Court Section
What is Child Abuse and Neglect? Child abuse in Mississippi is defined as causing or allowing a child to be sexually abused or exploited, emotionally abused, mentally injured, non-accidentally physically injured, or otherwise maltreated.

Child neglect is when a parent or other person responsible for a child’s care and support neglects or refuses to care for the child's health, morals or well-being, when able to do so, such as failing to provide food, proper education, and medical or surgical care (unless religious beliefs prevent certain forms of medical care).
Child Abuse Crimes Felony child abuse is intentionally, knowingly or recklessly doing any of the following to a child, whether or not harm results:
  • Burn
  • Physically torture
  • Strangle, choke, or smother
  • Poison
  • Starve
  • Use a deadly weapon on

It’s also felony child abuse to cause serious bodily harm to a child (for example, breaking bones or causing permanent disfigurement, scarring, internal bleeding, brain damage, eye or ear injuries) by intentionally, knowingly or recklessly:

  • Striking on the face or head
  • Disfiguring or scarring
  • Whipping, striking, or otherwise abusing

Finally, felony child abuse is causing a child bodily harm (such as bruising, bleeding, or soft tissue or internal organ swelling) by intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly:

  • Throwing, kicking, biting, or cutting
  • Striking a child under 14 on the face or head with a closed fist
  • Striking a child under 5 on the face or head
  • Kicking, biting, cutting, or striking a child’s genitals (except for male circumcision)

Knowingly condoning an incident of felonious child abuse by any other person who lives with the child is a crime, but this is more than just not reporting the abuse.

Child endangerment by selling or making drugs in the presence of a child is also illegal.

You can also be convicted of other crimes for your actions against a child, such as assault, domestic violence, or sexual battery with a child.

Penalties Child abuse penalties varies based on the crime and circumstances:

Felony Child Abuse – The torturing and serious bodily injury sections above can be punished to a minimum of 5 years to life in prison. Causing bodily harm without the more gruesome acts against a child is punished to 2 to 10 years in prison. Subsequent convictions for felonious child abuse will lead to a life sentence.

Condoning child abuse is a misdemeanor that can penalized by up to one year imprisonment and a $1,000 fine.

Child endangerment is punished by at most 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine. If the endangerment results in substantial harm to the child's physical, mental, or emotional health, this can be increased to up to 20 years and a $20,000 fine.

Defenses Some universal defenses are available in child abuse cases, like innocence or lack of evidence. Other defenses are provided by statute, such as reasonable corporal punishment or discipline by a parent or guardian, which is lawful in Mississippi. But, this isn’t a defense to a child abuse charge if the child suffers serious bodily harm.

For offenders with mental illness, the sentence can be suspended while mental health treatment is provided. This is only available one time.

Mandatory Reporting Required By Everyone in Mississippi is legally required to report child abuse or neglect. However, people in certain professions are most likely to hear or see child abuse and are also mandated reporters of child abuse, including doctors, dentists, nurses, psychologists, social workers, child caregivers, attorneys, ministers, cops, and school employees.
Basis of Report A child abuse or neglect report is required if a person has reasonable cause to suspect that a child is neglected or abused.
How to Report To report suspected child abuse call the Mississippi Department of Human Services toll-free, 24/7 hotline at 1-800-222-8000.
Penalty Failure to report child abuse or false reporting, if done willfully, can result in up to a $5,000 fine and one year in jail.

If you have more questions about child abuse, speak to an experienced Mississippi criminal defense lawyer or family law attorney.

Note: State laws are constantly being updated. Verify these laws by contacting a lawyer or conducting your own legal research.

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