I recently shared a news article relating to Scotland becoming the first in the UK to ban parents smacking of children. The ban – known as the Children Equal Protection from Assault (Scotland) Act 2019 – means children will be afforded the same rights as adults when it comes to physical assault.
Parents in Scotland were previously allowed to use physical force to discipline their children it was considered “reasonable chastisement”. Scottish Government guidelines released earlier this month told the public to call the police on parents seen chastising their child with a smack. Despite previous Government denials that the smacking ban would criminalise parents, the guidelines direct those who witness a smack to “call 999 to report a crime in progress.
Wales was the second in the UK to pass a law banning parents from smacking their children. It will begin in 2022. And yet so far there are no laws in England and Northern Ireland banning this practice, I have to ask the question why not?
So what does the law currently say in England?
It is currently illegal to smack a child in England, but has a legal defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ under section 58 of the children Act 2004. The defence of reasonable punishment cannot be used if punishment used amounts to actual bodily harm, wounding, grievous bodily harm or cruelty.
Opponents of smacking often say ‘mild smacking’ does no long term harm to a child. I would like to ask, if that is the case that it does no long term harm then why do those who were smacked as children still remember it? Therefore, if they remember it, has it had a lasting impact? My answer would be YES because it has had a lasting impact.
All too many times as a practitioner in my previous role I have had parents say to me “ well it never did me any harm” or “go and catch the real criminals”. Yet surely this blurs boundaries? Violence is violence and is never acceptable, children have the same human rights as adults.
What does the research say?
Research suggests smacking causes hurt and upset but doesn’t always stop bad behaviour. The Association of Educational Psychologists say that smacking is harmful to children’s mental health and should be banned. Children’s charity Save the Children states that all children have a “right to protection from violence, exploitation, abuse and neglect,” and describes the act of smacking a child as a form of “child abuse.”
There is a huge pressure from different organisations in England to change the law and completely ban unreasonable punishment and educate parents how to discipline without smacking, and I for one agree smacking should be banned to avoid any further confusion.
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