Britain’s children’s commissioners have recommended in a new report to be presented to the United Nations that parents should be banned from smacking their children.
Current law allows parents to use disciplinary measures that amount to “reasonable chastisement,” which do not include acts that result in visible harm such as cuts, bruises, or swelling. Smacking that does not leave visible damage does not result in prosecution under current law, but that would change if the nation adopts the commissioners’ recommendations.
Policies in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will be under review by the UN commission. UK commissioners — Anne Longfield for England, Tam Baillie for Scotland, Koulla Yiasouma for Northern Ireland and Sally Holland for Wales — have suggested 114 ways in which the nation can improve.
Education Secretary Nicky Morgan has come out in the past against a proposed ban, citing the need to give parents reasonable authority to mete out discipline. In December 2014, Morgan responded to calls for a corporal punishment ban by saying:
“I don’t want to criminalise parents if that’s the decision that they take to discipline their child.”
Morgan was responding to a direct question from an 11-year old boy who asked during a debate whether violence against children should be banned altogether.
The commissioners’ report stated that:
“The UK and devolved governments should ensure that children have equal protection from violence under the law. All corporal punishment in the family and in all other institutions and forms of alternative care should be prohibited, including through the repeal of legal defences.”
Sally Holland, the children’s commissioner for Wales, pointed out that under common law, adults have more protection from these same offenses than children do. Citing tenets of human rights, Holland said that everyone under 18 should be treated equally under the law on par with adults.
A poll from the Gloucester Citizen currently shows only 19% support for the proposed ban on smacking.
The commissioners proposed other significant changes, including reducing the voting age from 18 to 16 and consulting youth over the age of 10 on government plans. The commission also called for increasing Britain’s age of criminal responsibility beyond the current age of 10.
Prime Minister David Cameron reiterated his commitment to the status quo. His spokesman said:
“There are protections in place to make sure children are not assaulted in any way. The law provides that reasonable chastisement by a parent to control the behaviour of a child is lawful. There are no plans to change that.”
Reactions throughout Britain appear to be mixed, with some parents in support of a broad ban on corporal punishment, others showing support for physical discipline, and more saying that it’s an effective tool when used sparingly.
One Daily Express commenter considers the move to be overreach by the United Nations, saying, “The UN doesn’t need to be involved with how we discipline our children. Give them an inch. This is how is started with the European Court and they quickly overreached themselves.”
Another wrote simply, “You wouldn’t hit an adult, so why hit a child?”
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child monitors member countries’ execution of commitments to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Smacking children is currently banned in several European Union countries, including Spain, Germany, and Holland.