Parents Could Face Five Years In Jail For Smacking Kids Under New Plan
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A change in the law surrounding the hitting of children could see parents jailed for up to five years if convicted.
In 2020, Scotland banned a defence argument parents can use in relation to the physical punishment of kids.
Wales followed soon after, implicating the ban last month.
While Children's Commissioner for England Dame Rachel de Souza has spoken out in support of the ban being imposed in England, others have opposed the move.
De Souza told Times Radio how she 'absolutely abhor[s]' the physical punishing of young people.
She said: "I’m against violence of any kind against children.
"Because children are more vulnerable than adults, I think we do need to ensure that their rights are supported."
I am really proud that today we have finally made the physical punishment of children illegal here in Wales.— Mark Drakeford (@PrifWeinidog) March 21, 2022
We must do all that we can to protect our children from harm and this includes physical punishment.
Llongyfarchiadau to everyone who made this happen. pic.twitter.com/g5rNh0nyZZ
While law in England does encompass other 'protections for children', if the parent only causes the child a 'transient or trifling injury' there is a 'reasonable punishment' defence parents can use.
However, whether the parent is convicted or not is ultimately up to the court.
De Souza reflected on how Scotland and Wales' scrapping of the defence is a 'great opportunity to look, watch it' and see how it goes.
"I would be supportive - certainly, from what we've seen so far - I would be supportive if our government decided to do the same," she said.
De Souze explained she 'certainly admire[s] Scotland and Wales moving on this'.
"[...] It's certainly something I think we should consider," she resolved.
"But parents in England and Northern Ireland still have a defence of “reasonable punishment” if, for example, they do not leave a red mark or use an implement like a cane or belt"— shaunagh #RemoveTheRoom #UnreasonableForce (@shaunagh_92) April 21, 2022
(You'd be surprised just how much the "reasonable punishment" defence actually allows) pic.twitter.com/9RHAl9akcD
However, as noted by a government source, the issue has been 'polarising'.
The source stated: "Most people would say a light smack on the arm from a parent to a child isn't child abuse.
"We trust parents to discipline their children, when necessary, in the way they think is right. We've purposely not interfered in that too much. Child abuse is an entirely separate matter."
Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi echoed similar views that discipline should be 'left to parents'.
All children deserve the same protection as adults have; to be safe from harm, including physical punishment. Today, Wales joins Scotland as it finally bans smacking children & removes the legal defence of ‘reasonable punishment’- which unbelievably still applies in England!— Steve Chalke (@SteveChalke) March 21, 2022
Zahawi spoke about how, if his nine-year-old daughter misbehaves, she's given a 'light smack on the arm' by his wife.
However, Zahawi clarified that when the 'smack' does occur it 'has to be on a very, very rare occasion'. "And not something that we would certainly, as parents want to do very often," he said.
He went on: "It's much better to sit down and communicate with your child and discuss behaviour and discuss what positive behaviour looks like.
"And that's how we choose to do this in the Zahawi household."
#KentTonight poll:— KMTV (@KMTV_Kent) March 25, 2019
Smacking a child for misbehaving could soon be banned. @UKGovWales published a bill removing "reasonable punishment" as a defence in law.
But do you think England should do the same? @GOVUK #KentSays #mondaythoughts
Zahawi argued that 'there's a very big difference between child abuse, and we have really strong protections, but a light smack on the arm for a child by a parent is a decision parents should make, not the state'.
He concluded by voicing his 'very strong view' that parents have to be 'trust[ed]' on the matter.
"And parents being able to discipline their children is something that they should be entitled to do, not the state," he stated.
Zahawi has subsequently opposed the move.
Great workshop on ending the defence of "reasonable punishment" at #UNCRC30UCL. 58 countries now ban corporal punishment of children. Many more, including Wales, are in the process of doing so. England is lagging behind the rest of western Europe on this issue. Time for change! pic.twitter.com/BvTuMvH6qX— Dr Ruth Wareham (@Sophrosyne_1) November 7, 2019
Joanna Barrett, NSPCC Associate Head of Policy, said: "Children are some of the most vulnerable members of our society and deserve more, not less, protection from violence than adults so we welcome the Children’s Commissioner Rachel de Souza’s support today for a change in the law.
"We know from our recent poll that public attitudes to physical punishment are changing which shows how Westminster are behind the curve on this issue.
"The NSPCC has long campaigned to remove the outdated ‘reasonable punishment’ defence and we urge the Government to follow Scotland, Wales, Jersey and over 60 other countries to ensure children have equal protection from assault."
However, the proposed ban on scrapping the reasonable punishment defence is unlikely to go ahead given Zahawi's opposition as Education Secretary.
If you’ve been affected by any of these issues and want to speak to someone in confidence regarding the welfare of a child, contact the NSPCC on 0808 800 5000, 8am–10pm Monday to Friday, 9am–6pm weekends. If you are a child seeking advice and support, call Childline for free on 0800 1111