Should smacking your child be a criminal offence?

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Debate on smacking children has surfaced again with the UK’s Children’s Commissioners calling on the United Nations to change the law and make it illegal.

As it stands, the law in England and Wales allows parents to carry out ‘reasonable chastisement’, but they could end up in court if a child suffers bruising, cuts or scratches.

Now the country’s four Children’s Commissioners have called on the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, meeting in Switzerland, to change the law to protect youngsters, telling officials it is “simply unacceptable” that the law gives children less protection from harm than adults. They are calling for “positive and non-violent forms of child rearing and behaviour management”.

Commissioner Sally Holland said: “This is a fundamental issue of equality and human rights and the current legal defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ is inconsistent with the ambition for every child to realise their rights under the United Nations Convention on the rights of the child.”

And the Commissioners have the backing of the NSPCC, whose spokesman said: “Parents are often under pressure but the NSPCC believes smacking is not the best way to resolve problems or improve behaviour. Hitting children only teaches them to use violence.

“If you were trying to convince an adult not to do something you wouldn’t hit them, so why would you do that to a child?”

Writing on website Lawandparents.co.uk, barrister Lorna Elliot said: “It is not illegal for a parent to hit their child as long as the ‘smack’ amounts to ‘reasonable punishment’. There is, therefore, a difference between punishment and what can feasibly be termed ‘abuse’. Unreasonable punishment is classed as a smack that leaves a mark on the child, or the use of an implement to hit the child, such as a belt or cane. A parent can give another person consent to use reasonable punishment on their child, such as a babysitter or grandparent.”

Despite previous pleas to make smacking a criminal offence, the Government has yet to back down from its current policy of ‘reasonable chastisement’.

Smacking is already banned in dozens of countries, including Germany, Spain, Holland and much of Eastern Europe.