Parents who starve their children of love and affection face prosecution under a "Cinderella Law", The Daily Telegraph can disclose.
Changes to the child neglect laws will make "emotional cruelty" a crime for the first time, alongside physical or sexual abuse.
The Government will introduce the change in the Queen's Speech in early June to enforce the protection of children's emotional, social and behavioural well-being.
Parents found guilty under the law change could face up to 10 years in prison, the maximum term in child neglect cases.
The change will update existing laws in England and Wales which only allow an adult responsible for a child to be prosecuted if they have deliberately assaulted, abandoned or exposed a child to suffering or injury to their health.
The new offence would make it a crime to do anything that deliberately harmed a child's "physical intellectual, emotional, social or behavioural development".
This could include deliberately ignoring a child, or not showing them any love, over prolonged periods, damaging a child's emotional development.
Other new offences could include forcing a child to witness domestic violence, making a child a scape goat or forcing degrading punishments upon them.
As many as 1.5 million British children are believed to suffer from neglect. The legal changes will allow police to intervene earlier and build a criminal case before children are physically or sexually abused.
Currently civil intervention by social workers is only possible when abuse is classed as emotional neglect.
Robert Buckland, a Conservative MP and part-time judge who has been campaigning on the issue, said "the time for change is long overdue".
Writing in The Daily Telegraph today he says: "Not too many years after the Brothers Grimm popularised the story of Cinderella, the offence of child neglect was introduced.
"Our criminal law has never reflected the full range of emotional suffering experienced by children who are abused by their parents or carers. The sad truth is that, until now, the Wicked Stepmother would have got away scot-free."
The Children and Young Persons Act is more than 80 years old, with sections dating back to 1868.
A campaign to amend it to allow for damage to children's emotional needs was started in April 2012 by the charity Action for Children.
The Government repeatedly stated that there was no need to change the law, despite attempts to amend it by MPs and peers last year.
Baroness Butler Sloss failed in the House of Lords, while the respected Labour MP Paul Goggins, who died in January this year, started his campaign to amend the law in February last year.
Mark Williams, a Liberal Democrat MP, then launched his own attempt in a private member's bill.
"Every child should be able to grow up in a safe environment." Photo / Thinkstock
Ministers were initially cool to the idea but gradually came round. The first evidence of this came last Autumn when Damian Green, a justice minister, launched a consultation to gather evidence to support the change.
Mr Buckland added: "We need a clear, concise and workable definition of child maltreatment - an alternative code that reflects the range of harm of done to children and which provides appropriate legal mechanisms to tackle some of the worst cases.
"Emotional neglect must be outlawed, the term 'wilful' should be replaced and the criminal law should be brought into line with its civil counterpart."
A spokesman for the charity Action for Children said the change was a "monumental step" towards protecting the young.
It said that between 200 and 300 children were abused through neglect but their abusers were not brought before the courts.
Sir Tony Hawkhead, the charity's chief executive, said the law would be a major improvement for thousands of children who suffered from emotional abuse and countless others whose desperate situations had yet to come to light.
"I've met children who have been scapegoated in their families, constantly humiliated and made to feel unloved," he said. "The impact is devastating and can lead to lifelong mental health problems and, in some cases, suicide. We are one of the last countries in the West to recognise all forms of child abuse as a crime. Years of campaigning have been rewarded. The Government has listened."
The decision to press ahead comes after Conservative ministers dropped their opposition to the changes.
In October, Damian Green, a justice minister, ordered "targeted consultation" into the law change after insisting that there was no need for action.
The current law on "wilful neglect" is governed by the Children and Young Persons Act 1933.
Baroness Butler-Sloss, a former senior judge, tried to amend the legislation in the Lords by attaching a clause to the Crime and Courts Bill last year.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman said last night: "The Government believes protecting children from harm is fundamental and that child cruelty is an abhorrent crime which should be punished.
"Every child should be able to grow up in a safe environment. We are considering ways the law can support this."