cruelty, prevention of. In the 19th cent. many laws were passed in Great Britain and the United States to protect the helpless, especially children, lunatics, and domestic animals, from willful and malicious acts of cruelty. At first, cruelty to animals was deemed criminal only when severe enough to constitute a public nuisance. But in 1822 the British Parliament passed the Martin Act for animal protection, and two years later Richard Martin formed the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. The Cruelty to Animals Acts of 1849 and 1854 firmly established protection for animals. Not until 1884 was the first British law passed to protect children from cruelty. This movement to protect the helpless soon spread throughout Europe and to the United States, where the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals was formed (1866) by Henry Bergh in New York City. The American Humane Association, for the protection of animals and children, was organized in 1877. In the United States, as in Great Britain, protection of children came after that of animals, the first Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children having been formed in New York City in 1875. In all states, parents guilty of bodily cruelty to, or moral corruption of, their children may now be lawfully punished, and the children may be taken from them to become wards of the state (see child abuse). Societies of both types—for the protection of children and of animals—promote better legislation and enforcement, investigate and report alleged cruelties, establish shelters and sometimes (animal) hospitals, and carry on education against cruelty. While most of these societies are private, philanthropic organizations, some receive public funds.
See R. C. McCrea, The Humane Movement (1910, repr. 1969); L. G. Housden, The Prevention of Cruelty to Children (1955); P. P. Hallie, The Paradox of Cruelty (1969); D. Bakan, Slaughter of the Innocents (1971).