Government rejects call to ban smacking in England

Posted: 12th April 2023

Source: BBC News

The government has rejected calls to ban physical punishment of children in England, saying they are already protected in law.

In Wales, Scotland and Jersey any type of corporal punishment, including smacking, hitting, slapping, and shaking is illegal.

The NSPCC and Barnardo’s say England must follow suit.

The government has argued parents should be trusted to discipline their children.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “The government does not condone any violence towards children and has clear laws in place to prevent it.”

The children’s charities are calling for an end to the legal defence of “reasonable chastisement” that allows parents or carers to hit their children.

In England and Northern Ireland it is legal for a carer or parent to discipline their child physically if it is a “reasonable” punishment.

However, any punishment over what is considered “reasonable” is illegal. The Children Act 2004 says it is unlawful to assault a child causing actual or grievous bodily harm, or with child cruelty.

NSPCC chief executive Sir Peter Wanless said: “It cannot be right that in this country it is illegal to hit an adult, but equal protection is not given to a child.

“We need put the wellbeing of children first and bring an end to this legal anomaly.”

YouGov poll of almost 3,500 adults suggested two thirds of people (67%) across England think physically disciplining a child is not acceptable.

Close to 300 million (three in four) children aged between two and four worldwide experience violent discipline and 250 million (around six in 10) are punished by physical means according to Unicef.

‘Mum hit me’

Last year, Childline delivered almost 900 counselling sessions to children with concerns about physical punishment.

A 12-year-old girl who contacted Childline said: “My mum heard me swearing from the other room today. I know I shouldn’t swear, it always gets me in trouble and makes mum act scary. Mum hit me so hard this time, harder than usual.

“She was screaming and hit me in the head so hard I fell into the wall. I still feel a bit dizzy now and there’s a lump. I don’t know how to make it stop.”

Lynn Perry MBE, chief executive of Barnardo’s, said: “At Barnardo’s we know that eliminating physical punishment brings significant benefits to families, and our frontline workers tell us it helps to create a safe and nurturing environment for children.

“For all these reasons we support the call to make physical punishment of children illegal across the UK to ensure children in England and Northern Ireland have the same protection as those in Scotland and Wales.”

The government says it is supporting teachers, social workers and all safeguarding professionals to spot the signs of abuse or neglect more quickly.

A statutory framework sets out what organisations should do to keep children safe from abuse.

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