All smacking is wrong

“We insist on zero tolerance of domestic violence once someone
is over 18, but for those under one year old, our society accepts
that more than half will be hit at least weekly by their
parents… By the time children are four, the Department for
Health’s own data reveals 38 per cent are hit more than once
a week, often moderately severely and behind closed doors in the
privacy of the family home”, explained Baroness Finlay to the House
of Lords, introducing amendment 106 to the Children Bill. If
accepted it would mean “any assault that would be classed as a
criminal assault if aimed at an adult would become a criminal
assault if aimed at a child.” It would not create a new

Supporters of the amendment were in Helena Kennedy’s
words, “trying to shift a culture… What we are saying to the
wider society is that of course there are times when one is pushed
as a parent to do something one regrets afterwards. But we must
come together to create values and standards that send out messages
to those who visit terrible abuse on children.” Sadly, the
amendment was lost. This is not surprising for the government put
its weight instead behind Lord Lester’s amendment which would
have further modified the meaning of “reasonable chastisement”.
This is the defence which for centuries has been available to
parents who hit their children.

Today, 12 countries in Europe protect their children from
assault in accordance with Article 19 of the UN Convention on the
Rights of the Child and the Convention for the Protection of Human
Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. The UK in contrast, continues to
disregard these conventions thus failing to respect the human
rights of children. When Sweden, 25 years ago, introduced a ban on
parents hitting their children the government accompanied it with
an advertising campaign. Later research on attitudes before and
after the introduction of such a ban compared countries where the
government had taken a proactive stance with those where it had
been passive. The public had become much more supportive of the ban
in the former. The UK government, by being too fearful of the
accusation of creating a nanny state, has missed an important
opportunity to protect children by giving a clear message that
hitting children is wrong.

Hilary Land is emeritus professor and senior research
fellow at the Centre for Family Policy and Child Welfare,
University of Bristol.

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