Today, a UN report has been released which says that the UK should make all forms of smacking (referred to as corporal punishment within the report) illegal across the board.
Disciplining children through physical punishment has often been a divisive issue. Some think that it does the child no harm, and often it is the last resort. Others argue that if you have to resort to physical actions then you have lost control of the situation.
The present law says that parents and others acting as parents in that situation are allowed to use “reasonable chastisement”. This means they can smack a child so long as it does not leave any visible bruising, grazes, scratches, swellings or cuts. No one else is legally allowed to physically chastise a child, even if the parent has given them permission.
As with many issues, the law is difficult to interpret in this situation. For example, there was a case in May of this year, where a father had his children taken into care because he insisted he had the right to smack his children. In that situation, he smacked his children hard enough to leave a red mark and did so on their bottom, legs, and arms. This could easily be interpreted as a “nanny state” taking over what parents can do in their own homes.
However, the Father repeatedly failed to recognise that there could be better types of parenting that did not involve physical chastisement and he focused purely on what he what he had a right to do to his children. He did not see smacking as a last resort, but as a common tactic to discipline his children. It was this attitude which caused the Court to place the children in care as he saw no reason why this should change.
The UN report today suggested the following:-
The State party should take practical steps, including through legislative measures where appropriate, to put an end to corporal punishment in all settings, including the home, throughout United Kingdom and all Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, and repeal all existing legal defences across the State party’s jurisdiction. It should encourage non-violent forms of discipline as alternatives to corporal punishment, and conduct public information campaigns to raise awareness about its harmful effects.
They expressed concern that corporal punishment was still not fully outlawed in the home, and that there was a legal defence of “reasonable punishment” in England. They have suggested that all forms of punishment must end and the government should raise awareness about its harmful effects.
Obviously these are only recommendations, but with cases present in the Courts today suggesting that the authorities take a dim view on smacking perhaps it is not long until we see suggested bills in Parliament detailing the banning of any physical chastisement on children.
Nevertheless, the report should perhaps be taken with a pinch of salt. It is worth noting that this UN report has been written by the UN Human Rights Committee which is chaired by none other than Fabian Salvioli, an Argentine openly critical of the British presence in the Falkland Islands. He gave a controversial interview to an Argentine newspaper recently in which he dismissed the rights of the Falkland islanders to determine their own status, and said that it was a dispute “simply about territorial sovereignty”.