Should smacking be banned all over the UK?

Now that it looks like Scotland will outlaw smacking children, people are calling for the ban to apply to England, Wales and Northern Ireland too.

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Smacking children looks set to be banned in Scotland – and may 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.

Meanwhile, in Scotland, a bill proposing to give children the same protection from assault as adults have passed its 1st stage in the Scottish Parliament by 80 votes to 29 (May 2019). The bill now goes to committee and them MSPs will have a final vote on passing it into law.

This comes after the the Children’s Commissioners for England, Wales and Northern Ireland (who are independent from government and are put in place to protect children’s rights) went on record to say 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 may soon depend 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in England, which grants an exemption from the law on common assault to allow the physical punishment of children, is outdated,” she says.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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