Most parents in favour of smacking children

By Peter Foster

SEVEN out of 10 parents believe that it is acceptable to smack their children if they misbehave, according to a survey published today.

The findings of the ICM poll, conducted for BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, give widespread support to the Government’s decision to continue to allow parents to smack their children, despite lobbying from welfare groups who want it made illegal.

The European Court of Human Rights had ruled that children should have the same legal protection from assault as adults, after it awarded £10,000 to a 14-year-old in 1997. The boy took his case to Strasbourg after a British court cleared his stepfather of causing actual bodily harm. The man claimed that hitting the boy with a 3ft cane was “reasonable chastisement”.

However, while promising to make caning children illegal, the Government said it would uphold a parent’s right to use reasonable physical punishment.

Claire Rayner, the broadcaster and journalist who has talked about her own experiences of being beaten as a child, said the survey’s findings were disappointing but not surprising. “A few years ago the figure would have been eight out of 10, so I suppose we are moving slowly in the right direction,” she said. “Everyone talks about ‘little taps’, which is nonsense. If smacking didn’t inflict pain why bother doing it?”

She said parents should use love and praise to teach children the difference between right and wrong. “It is as vital to lavish praise on them when they are doing right as it is to tick them off when they are doing wrong. “Perhaps people should think of the root of the word ‘discipline’, which is ‘disciple’ or ‘follower’. You don’t hit people if you want them to follow you.”

Under current British law a parent has the right to use “reasonable chastisement” but six other European countries – Sweden, Austria, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland and Norway – have banned all forms of physical punishment against children.

Epoch (End Physical Punishment of Children) argues that smacking children legitimises the use of violence in society. It points to research conducted for the Department of Health in 1997 which found that children who were frequently aggressive to their siblings were four times as likely to have suffered regular corporal punishment.

Others groups, such as Family and Youth Concern, support smacking as a legitimate way of defining the boundaries between right and wrong.

© Copyright of Telegraph Group Limited 1999.


Corpun file 4675


The Daily Telegraph, London, 4 August 1999

Tories ‘will let parents discipline children’

By Polly Newton, Political Staff

ANN WIDDECOMBE, the shadow home secretary, said yesterday that parents must be allowed to use “reasonable force” to discipline their children without state interference.

Miss Widdecombe said the Conservatives would review the law on child abuse if it was being used by police or social workers to justify “unwarranted intervention” in domestic situations. Her comments follow the case reported last week in which a father was arrested for grabbing his 15-year-old daughter by the wrist in an attempt to prevent her from leaving the house.

Mike Brundle, 52, a Tory council leader from Bury St Edmunds, feared that the girl was going to meet a crowd of friends who might lead her astray. He was held in a police cell for six hours after his daughter alleged that he had assaulted her.

Miss Widdecombe said she had been “sickened” by the case. Social workers should have helped Mr Brundle to protect his daughter instead of investigating him, she said. “I stand four square behind parents’ rights to use reasonable force to protect their children and instill a sense of discipline in them from an early age.”

She said police and social workers appeared to be interpreting the Children Act in an “over-zealous” way, in particular by citing the need to put a child’s interest above all others.

If so, Miss Widdecombe said, “we may need to start thinking about how we give parents some protection in law”. The state had “no right” to dictate to “loving and responsible” parents, she said.

“The Government should be using its resources to protect children who are genuinely at risk from bad parents. Instead, it seems intent on meddling in the lives of decent people who are trying to instill good morals in their children in a caring but disciplined family environment.”

The results of an ICM survey published yesterday showed that seven out of 10 people believed parents should be allowed to use reasonable force to discipline their children.

© Copyright Telegraph Group Limited 1999.


Corpun file 4334


The Daily Telegraph, London, 21 August 1999

Close eye to be kept on children of smack teacher

By Richard Savill

THE family of a teacher convicted of assaulting his eight-year-old daughter by smacking her in a dentist’s waiting room has been placed under a supervision order after social workers said they feared the offence could be repeated.

The 48-year-old father, who became the first person in Britain to be convicted of smacking his child, accused the authorities of conducting a witch hunt against his family after the order was imposed on Thursday. The order means his family will be visited regularly by social workers who will monitor the welfare of the girl and her two brothers, aged six and one.

Joseph Beltrami, the family’s solicitor, said yesterday that he had lodged an appeal against the order imposed by the Children’s Panel at Bellshill, Lanarks. The decision was “totally unnecessary”. He said: “The only reason the social workers could give was that the smacking might happen again. That is mere speculation. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest it might happen again.”

A sheriff ruled in May that the daughter had been the victim of “unnecessary suffering” when her father pulled down her trousers and pants and put her across his knee after she refused to have a tooth extracted. The incident at Motherwell Health Centre, Lanarks, was witnessed on Christmas Eve by staff who reported him to police. In June he returned to the court where he was admonished by Sheriff Dan Russell, who then referred the case to the Children’s Panel.

The father’s decision to fight the supervision order and his appeal against his conviction for assault means that his future as a teacher is unlikely to be decided by the General Teaching Council for several weeks. The father, who cannot be named because identity of his child is prohibited by Scottish law, is waiting to hear whether he can keep his job as a primary teacher following his conviction.

Education officials have confirmed that the teacher, now restricted to library duties at his school, was previously disciplined for “prodding and poking” pupils. Asked about the verbal and written warnings the teacher received for his conduct, Mr Beltrami said: “He thinks the matter was exaggerated and that little happened. There was one incident and it didn’t really add up to very much. It wasn’t an assault or anything like that. There was no question of ill-treatment. It is perfectly natural for a teacher to prod a pupil if, for example, they are delaying in doing something.”

Mr Beltrami said he did not expect the prodding incident to be taken into consideration by the General Teaching Council when they consider his future. “That has been dealt with and disposed of so that cannot be resurrected.”