Two-thirds of adults think it's wrong to smack a child, study finds, as campaign calls grow for law change

More than two-thirds of adults in England believe it is wrong for parents or carers to physically punish their child, a new survey has found.

In a YouGov poll of nearly 3,000 adults commissioned by the NSPCC, 68 per cent said they felt that physically disciplining a child, for example by smacking them, was unacceptable.

A so-called “smacking ban” comes into force in Wales today, outlawing any type of corporal discipline for children and marking the end of the common law defence of “reasonable punishment”.

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Now the NSPCC is calling on the Government to follow Wales’s lead by bringing in similar measures in England.

Welsh Government deputy minister for social services Julie Morgan high-fives a child in celebration of the new law banning the physical punishment of children. Welsh Government/PA Wire

NSPCC chief executive Sir Peter Wanless said: “Today is a landmark moment for children in Wales. They are some of the most vulnerable members of our society and deserve more, not less, protection from violence than adults.

“The NSPCC has long campaigned to remove this outdated defence and we are pleased that children in Wales, Scotland and Jersey now have equal protection from assault.

“Public attitudes to physical punishment are changing and the law needs to follow suit. Westminster now needs to follow its neighbours and tackle this legal anomaly.”

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Scotland to become first part of UK to ban the smacking of children

Wales joins more than 60 nations worldwide in legislating against the physical punishment of children. Scotland introduced its own ban in November 2020.

Previously in Wales, and as is still the case in England and Northern Ireland, smacking a child was unlawful, but such an assault was allowed as long as it constituted “reasonable punishment”.

Nearly two-thirds of respondents to the YouGov poll said a smacking ban should be adopted in England, while 68 per cent said physically disciplining a child was unacceptable.

The polling revealed that there was a lack of clarity about the law on physical punishment, with more than half thinking it was already illegal to smack your child.

The NSPCC said that last year more than 500 counselling sessions had been delivered by ChildLine where children and young people reporting being smacked or hit by parents and carers. Some children reported that punishments became more severe as they got older.

Research

University College London recently analysed 20 years of research on the topic and concluded that physical punishment did not improve children’s behaviour but increased difficulties.

Dr Anja Heilmann, from the university’s department of public health, said: “We can unequivocally say that the evidence is clear: physical punishment is harmful to children’s development and wellbeing.

“The legislative change coming into force in Wales today sends a clear signal that physically hurting children is never acceptable.

“Children in England deserve the same – we hope that the law reforms in Scotland and Wales will be a catalyst for change happening there too.”

Critics of the change in the law have said it will criminalise parents, but the Welsh Government has insisted the move is about protecting children’s rights.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: “The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child makes it clear that children have the right to be protected from harm and from being hurt and this includes physical punishment.

“That right is now enshrined in Welsh law. No more grey areas. No more ‘defence of reasonable punishment’. That is all in the past. There is no place for physical punishment in a modern Wales.”

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