Legislation on smacking children

From the 27 October 2003 a new law was put in place with regards to children and physical punishment. The new law states that parents in England and Wales who smack children so hard it leaves a mark can and will be punished, this could lead to a prison sentence of up to five years in jail. Previously, the law allowed parents the right of 'reasonable chastisement' in disciplining their children. Parents were able to administer moderate physical punishment to their children without liable conviction for assault.

But, the concept of 'reasonable chastisement' dates back to 1860 and is difficult to define in the 21st century. So to protect children from harsh physical punishment the law has been clarified and brought up to date. Smacking is not completely prohibited, thus leading to a debate between the government, parents and child protection authorities. Ministers feared an outright ban would lead to a flood of unnecessary prosecutions, and have been accused of reneging on a pledge to outlaw smacking by telling peers to oppose the complete ban.

And although the government agree the defence of 'reasonable chastisement' allows some parents to go beyond smacking, they also take into consideration that the position of this responsibility lies upon the parents and it is up to the child protection agencies to deal with the individuals when that line is crossed. Ministers see their opposition to a complete ban as a decision of common sense. A decision that balances the essential need for children to be protected with the right of parents to not have government interfering in family life. An example of this is the view of the labour party; "We do not want to criminalize parents".

(Bainbridge 2007). This may seem like quite an ironic view considering the rebellion of 47 labour mps to back an outright ban. A rebellion defeated by 424 to 75 votes. (Bbc. co. uk). The other side of the argument is that smacking is a form of violence and violence is wrong full stop. Groups such as the NSPCC (no date) are actually seeking to criminalize their own supporters as the vast majority have, at some point, used physical discipline on children. What is actually being debated here is that children should have the same protection as adults under the law on assault.

The majority of child protection agencies insist that there be a clear message sent out to parents that smacking children is as unacceptable as smacking anyone else in society. What is in place at the moment means that children actually have less protection under the law of assault than adults do. This compromise causes more confusion as it removes the 'reasonable chastisement' defence for assault and battery of a child but retains it for actual bodily harm and the NSPCC criticize this compromise, saying it defines an acceptable threshold of violence towards children.

To conclude, the general consensus of the government and public is that a balance between parents right to discipline and protecting children is what is to be ultimately achieved. Whereas the view of child protection agencies is that by relying on physical punishment, parents are teaching a child to be afraid and are potentially storing up a lot of problems for that child's future.