Government department

The current law in place in the UK, with respect to smacking children, is known as the law of 'reasonable chastisement.' This law permits, 'the use by parents of reasonable chastisement when disciplining their children.' That is, a parent is permitted to hit a child as a way of enforcing discipline providing the physical punishment is within moderate to reasonable limits. There is however evidence which suggests hitting a child is both wrong and ineffective in its aim of teaching a child right from wrong. This evidence will be presented here in an effort to advise your government of the reasons legislation to ban the physical punishment of children should be established.

A ruling that UK legislation on the physical punishment of children violates the UN convention on the rights of the child and breaches Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, means your government is required to amend the UK law. Hitting children is wrong. It violates a child's human rights. Currently everyone in the UK except children is protected against physical violence by law. What gives us the right to discriminate against children in this way and deny them the protection available to everyone else as their right?

It is argued that the law exists in its current form, in order to maintain what is seen as a parents right to administer physical punishment. But this legislation in favour of adults is ignoring the rights of the child. Protection form violence is a basic human right. This right has been used in order to legislate against domestic violence between a man and a woman. This protection is also a basic human right in which all children are entitled too, as they are people with rights as much as adults..

There are several arguments, which suggest that hitting children is wrong and evidence to support these arguments. Firstly hitting can cause serious physical harm to a child even accidentally. An adult is physically bigger and stronger than a child and therefore the likelihood of causing the child harm by physical punishment is great. Evidence from a study by the Department of Health (Nobes and Smith 1997) found from interviews of mostly mothers and few fathers in 402 families, that one in six children had been severely physically punished by their mothers.

Severe physical punishment was identified as, 'involving the intention or potential to cause injury or psychological damage involving the use of implements and repeated actions over a long period of time' (Nobes and Smith 1997.) The study found that 77% of parents had hit their children in the year preceding the study. 38% of parents of children aged 4 and 27% of parents of children aged 7, admitted to hitting their children more then once a week. 75% of children had been hit before the age of 1. This evidence highlights that physical punishment of children is often not gentle and is occurring more frequently than it is perhaps commonly thought to be. This evidence alone clearly indicates that it is a common problem which needs to be more carefully considered in order to protect more children.

It is reported that even light blows as physical punishment have accidentally caused serious injury due to the inferior power and strength of the child. For example a clip round the ear has been known to burst ear drums and permanently damage a child's hearing. Even a simple smack may knock a child off balance possibly leading to head injury following a fall. (EPOCH ****). Injury as serious as paralysis has been reported due to nerve damage following a mild paddling. (Hunt 1996).

If injuries such as these are known to occur accidentally or otherwise from mild smacking, surely evidence such as that found in the Nobes and Smith 1997 study suggesting this kind of punishment occurs frequently and is often more than a mild smacking, is cause for concern in relation to the safety of children and clear indicator that hitting children is wrong. It would after all be seen to be wrong to cause another adult such injuries, so surely due to the size and strength of the child compared to the adult, causing such injuries to a child is even more wrong.

Hitting children is also known to progress in some cases from hitting mildly, within the constraints of the current law of 'reasonable chastisement', to more serious child abuse, where a child is frequently beaten or otherwise abused causing great distress to the child, as well as endangering their live. It is noted by Hunt 1997 that, 'many parents are unaware of alternative approaches to managing a child's behaviour therefore when punishment doesn't accomplish a parent's goals it is liable to escalate and cross the fine line into becoming child abuse.

Figures show that at least one child a week dies in the UK as a result of parental abuse (The Observer 29/09/02). With a ban on hitting children the number could be significantly reduced. Coupled with the ban parents could be given the significant education needed to advise alternative types of punishment through both measures smacking would be given less opportunity to escalate into child abuse.

The benefits of a complete ban can already be seen in Sweden. The first country to bring in a ban on hitting children in 1979. Figures for Sweden stating that between 1981 and 1996 only four children were reported to have been killed by their parents. These figures are strong evidence that banning the wrong practice of smacking children can have a significant positive effect on reducing amounts of child abuse, which the UK could surely benefit from.