MPs call for ban on parents smacking children

By Helen William and John Deane
PA News

Two influential Parliamentary committees today urged that parents should be banned from smacking their children.

MPs and peers say that the “reasonable chastisement” defence that is often relied upon by abusers in court should be closed off.

But the move has come under fire as the defence enables parents and carers to argue that smacking allows them to discipline children.

Shadow health secretary Dr Liam Fox said: “Outlawing smacking would be an outrageous intrusion by the state into parents’ legitimate rights and duties.

“There’s a whole world of difference between the form of discipline most parents use and the premeditated and persistent cruelty which has come to light in cases such as that of Victoria Climbie.

“To try to draw parallels is not only preposterous but also deeply insulting to the vast majority of parents in this country.”

There is growing pressure to ban parents from smacking their children as part of a campaign to crack down on child abuse in the light of the death of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie who died at the hands of her great aunt.

The Health Committee, which examined the institutional flaws which led to Victoria’s death, said that the “reasonable chastisement” defence could escalate into abuse.

The Human Rights Committee warned it was incompatible with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. New prosecution guidelines could be introduced to ensure that mild smacking does not lead to a court case, they suggested.

David Hinchliffe, the Health Committee chairman who is a former social worker, said: “We urge the Government to use the forthcoming Green Paper on children at risk to remove the increasingly anomalous “reasonable chastisement” defence from parents and carers, which can impede the prosecution of child abuse cases.”

In Victoria’s case, discipline and punishment in the form of “little slaps” escalated into child abuse and, eventually, to her murder in February 2000.

She died of hypothermia, malnourishment and with 128 separate injuries on her body after suffering months of abuse from her carers, her great aunt Marie Therese Kouao and Carl Manning who are now serving life for murder.

Approximately 80 children in England die from abuse each year – a figure that has not changed for 30 years. Their deaths have led to 70 public inquiries since 1948.

It is a “matter of priority” that a Children’s Rights Commissioner is introduced, and guidance on how to implement the Children Act 1989 needs to be more “unified and clarified”, the MPs said.

Instead of enabling the differing needs of children at risk to be met appropriately it was instead being used to ration access to services and has led to vulnerable cases being treated as a low priority.

Mr Hinchliffe urged the Government to examine whether current health service priorities were having a “deleterious effect” on local priorities. Margaret Hodge’s appointment as the new children’s minister is a “development we will monitor”, he warned.

Concluding that the “reasonable chastisement” defence in section 1(7) of the Children and Persons Act 1933 was untenable with a child’s entitlement to be free from physical assault, the Human Rights Committee declared: “The time has come for the Government to act”.

They continued: “We do not accept that the decision of the Government not to repeal or replace the defence of reasonable chastisement is compatible with its obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child.”

Repealing the defence would provide “greater clarity than the current law,” they argued, adding: “There is evidence that ‘reasonable’ is interpreted by juries and the courts to cover a range of behaviour that many people would consider went beyond a loving smack’.”

It pointed out that Kouao, who blames health service staff for Victoria’s death, said: “You don’t kill people by smacking them.”

The committee said it is important that the limits of lawful corporal punishment continue to be narrowed and that physical assault on children is seen “in almost all circumstances a disproportionate, and futile, violation of children’s rights”.

Agony Aunt Claire Rayner of the Children are Unbeatable Alliance campaign, representing 350 organisations who want children to have the same legal protection from being hit as adults, said: “The pressure for law reform is now overwhelming and ministers should be planning for ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ they will change the law.

“The archaic law allowing ‘reasonable chastisement’ of children should have no place in a modern and fair society. Hitting children is wrong and the law should say so in the interests of children’s rights and child protection.”

More than 80 per cent of MPs taking part in a Mori poll commissioned by the NSPCC said they thought the physical punishment of children could lead to physical abuse in some cases.

The poll of 100 MPs found that 83 per cent agreed that such punishment could go too far and that 45 per cent of the MPs questioned either “strongly supported” or “tended to support” legal reform to give children the same protection from assault as adults. Just 21 per cent of MPs were undecided or neutral on the issue.

Physical punishment could be emotionally and physically harmful, according to 78 per cent of MPs while 51 per cent said it was ineffective in achieving lasting child discipline.

Liz Atkins, head of policy at the NSPCC, said: “It seems likely that a free vote on legal reform to protect children from assault would be won if only a small proportion of waverers were to swing behind it.

“We urge MPs to convert their clear concern about the risks to children from physical punishment into legal reform that will also help protect them from abuse.”

© 2003 Independent Digital (UK) Ltd


Corpun file 11829


The Mirror, London, 26 June 2003

Law smacks of nanny nonsense

By Juliet Wilson

CONFISCATING their new Harry Potter book, cutting the credit on their mobile phones and telling them there really is a monster under the bed – all effective ways of punishing a naughty child.

If you are the type of parent who disciplines their children with a smack, you could soon find yourself committing a criminal offence – even if the smack doesn’t hurt.

This proposed legislation could mean that even gentle smacking is disallowed.

Why – because apparently giving your child a gentle smack could lead you to abusing them.

Now we all know that beating a child is not a good thing.

I don’t care much for people who say: “I got a beating when I was a naughty child and it never did me any harm.”

If you have to inflict pain on a child to discipline them, there is a serious problem, most probably with the parent.

Luckily for me I escaped the days of the school cane, as there were times when I would have certainly deserved it.

Most people who were unlucky enough to feel the sting on their palms would testify that the best teachers had little need for using the cane. The same theory exists with parental discipline.

How many times have you been enjoying your lunch when a little brat has started to run round the restaurant, causing havoc?

“Please don’t do that?” Pleads the pathetic voice of the mother who has no control over her children.

She will often turn to you and give you an “oh well, what the little darling wants, he shall get” type of shrug. These people seem to think that everyone adores their little brat as much as they do. So the miniature spawn of Satan continues to do what it pleases. Should the mother have given the child a spank?

No, the mother should have stopped the child from misbehaving before the situation got out of hand.

Yet there are times when I have seen children behaving so badly that I have wanted to spank them myself.

No decent person wants to spank their children but the way that spanking is generally used is not to inflict pain on the child.

The punishment is in the humiliation that goes with being spanked. The spank, to be effective does not actually need to hurt.

I FIND it very worrying that people should think that even light spanking could lead to child abuse.

I don’t believe this for one moment.

In fact, there is something rather disturbing about someone who would think such a thing. If this is so then surely kissing your child goodnight leads to sexual abuse?

There is no excuse for abusing a child. People who abuse children, physically, mentally or sexually are evil and should be allowed no contact with children.

The only thing this legislation goes to prove is that the social work department and the government have no idea how to solve the problem of child abuse.

Banning spanking will go no way whatsoever to cutting down child abuse.

People who abuse children are doing it behind closed doors – not in the middle of the street.

And here’s another thing – they already know that it is illegal.

I have nothing but sympathy with most parents, however, as I cannot discipline myself to get out of bed or to resist a second glass of wine.

I have tried spanking myself but find that I rather enjoy it.

When I do have children I think I will resort to alternative types of punishment.

A friend of mine once caught her seven-year-old child stealing sweets from a newsagent.

Rather than spanking him, she took him down to the local police station and reported him.

The child is now a 27-year-old man. Needless to say he has never put a foot wrong since.