Should smacking be banned all over the UK?

Now that Scotland has confirmed smacking will be outlawed, people are calling for the ban to apply to England, Wales and Northern Ireland too.

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Smacking children, already banned in Scotland, could soon be banned in Wales, too.

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The Welsh government has published a bill (March 2019) removing ‘reasonable punishment’ as a defence for smacking a child. And, if the bill is passed by the Welsh assembly, it will then be made law – and children will have the same protection from physical punishment as adults.

When the Scottish ban was introduced (in 2017), the Children’s Commissioners (who are independent from government and are put in place to protect children’s rights) for England, Wales and Northern Ireland said they think smacking should be banned throughout the whole of the UK.

They said it’s not right that whether or not a child can be smacked now depends on their location within the United Kingdom.

As Northern Ireland’s Children’s Commissioner, Koulla Yiasouma, put it: “Assaults on children have never been right, and it is certainly not right now that protection from assault as a child may depend on where you live in the UK.”

And Anne Longfield, the commissioner for England, said that the current UK law on smacking is in serious need of an update.

(Section 58 of the Children Act 2004 says that smacking by a parent is unlawful unless it amounts to ‘reasonable punishment’. But, confusingly, it doesn’t give much, if any, definition as to what counts as reasonable punishment, according to charity Child Law Advice.)

“The current legislation in England, which grants an exemption from the law on common assault to allow the physical punishment of children, is outdated,” she says.

“It should be updated to reflect what the vast majority of parents believe: that hitting children is wrong and that there are better and more effective ways of disciplining children and encouraging positive behaviour.”

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