The children’s commissioner has said she thinks England should consider following Scotland and Wales in banning the smacking of children.
Dame Rachel de Souza has spoken out about her support for changing the law to give children the same protection from assault as adults. She told Times Radio: “I absolutely abhor, and I’m against, violence of any kind against children. Because children are more vulnerable than adults, I think we do need to ensure that their rights are supported.”
Last month Wales became the second UK nation to introduce laws to make any type of corporal punishment illegal, including smacking, hitting, slapping and shaking. The “smacking ban”, as it is known, was brought in under the Children (Abolition of Defense of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Act 2020 and marks the end of the common law defense of “reasonable punishment”.
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Parents or anyone who is responsible for a child while the parents are absent can now face criminal or civil charges if they are found to have physically disciplined a young person in any way. Critics of the law change have said it will criminalize parents, but the Welsh government insisted the move was about protecting children’s rights.
It came after Scotland introduced its own ban in November 2020. Previously, and as is still the case in England and Northern Ireland, smacking a child was unlawful, but such an assault was allowed as long as it constituted “reasonable punishment”. Whether the defense was accepted depended on the circumstances of each case, taking into consideration factors such as the age of the child and the nature of the contact, including whether it left a red mark or was carried out with a fist or implement such as a cane or belt.
Dame Rachel urged ministers to look at how the legislation moved through the Welsh assembly and said she would support a decision to follow suit, Hull Live reports. “Scotland and Wales have done this (banned the physical punishment of children). So we’ve learned a lot about what that would mean, as it goes into legislation,” she said.
“I think we’ve got a great opportunity to look, watch it, as it’s embedded (in Wales), and I would be supportive – certainly, from what I’ve seen so far – I would be supportive if our government decided to do the same.” Although Dame Rachel acknowledged that “protections” for children are already “enshrined in law” in England, she expressed admiration for the actions of the Scottish and Welsh governments, adding: “It’s certainly something that I think we should consider.” Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer previously said the move should be mirrored in England and Northern Ireland, calling it “the right thing” to do.
A survey commissioned by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children found more than two-thirds of adults in England believe it is wrong for parents or carers to physically punish their child, with 58 per cent thinking it was already illegal. More than 60 nations worldwide have legislated against the physical punishment of children.
George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.