NSPCC chief executive Mary Marsh will back the government if it
gives children the same protection as adults.
A law against hitting children would help us all – parents,
childminders, social workers and the public – to challenge child
abuse when we see it. Legal reform to give children the same
protection from assault as adults is not an attack on the majority
of parents who may resort to a so-called “loving smack” in a moment
of anger or frustration. Nor would they be prosecuted for doing
It’s an attack on the hard core minority of abusers – like
Lauren Wright’s stepmother Tracey – who punch and kick in public
and private, sometimes with tragic consequences.
The NSPCC’s child maltreatment survey showed 7 per cent of young
adults had been seriously physically abused as a child – not a
one-off tap, but regular beatings which left them bruised, injured
and emotionally scarred.
Could a law banning hitting children have saved Lauren Wright?
Possibly, if local people had felt empowered to speak out about
someone who punches a child in the street. The real lesson from
Lauren’s death is that many people and professionals failed to act
despite the bruises and black eyes.
We need a culture of reporting our concerns about children at
risk of abuse, rather than one of turning away. As Lauren’s case
proves, we shouldn’t wait until it’s too late.
A law to protect children from being hit is not the only
solution but it would help enormously. It would help all
professionals to intervene earlier, and boost public confidence.
Legal reform must be coupled with public education as parents need
effective alternatives to smacking.
The government will soon announce the findings of its
consultation on physical punishment. It is an opportunity to show
leadership in defending children. The NSPCC, many leading public
figures and more than 260 organisations in the Children are
Unbeatable Alliance will stand by it, as will a number of European
countries which already provide legal protection for children from
The government must avoid proposing what it thinks Middle
England wants, or deliver proposals less ambitious than those in
Scotland. It must show its mettle on ending physical punishment and
promoting more effective alternatives. Hitting children is a child
protection issue. Outlawing it is both pro-children and pro-parent
– passionately so.