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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Tue 11-Nov-14 16:07:21

Guest post: Plaid Cymru - 'why we want to make smacking illegal'

Jocelyn Davies wants the law changed in Wales so that a parent charged with common assault against their child cannot use the defence of 'reasonable punishment' - here, she argues that we must make any physical punishment of children illegal

Jocelyn Davies AM

Plaid Cymru's spokesperson on Children

Posted on: Tue 11-Nov-14 16:07:21

(53 comments )

Lead photo

'As it stands, the law is poorly understood.'

Adults shouldn't hit children.

One might assume that this is an uncontroversial statement, but here in Wales, it's causing a storm of debate and lots of political squabbling.

I'm currently spearheading a campaign for the National Assembly for Wales to make physical punishment of children illegal – I want to change the law so that, if parents find themselves in court after being charged with common assault for hurting their children, they can't use the defence that their behaviour was a reasonable way to discipline their child.

This has been dubbed a ‘smacking ban’, but it's not about banning - it's about clarifying the law and sending a strong message about positive parenting.

The current law in the UK about physical punishment of children is pretty confusing. Since 2004, if anyone acting with parental responsibility is charged with either child abuse or causing actual bodily harm to a child, they can't use the defence of reasonable punishment – but those charged with common assault are still able to. A review of criminal cases a few years ago looked at a small number of these cases and found that they included serious assaults like punches, strangling, and slaps around the head. All the defendants avoided conviction.

Changing the law on the physical punishment of children isn't about judging those in the past who smacked their kids. It's about progress, and it's about our society working to improve so that each generation of children has a better life than the one before.


As it stands, the law is poorly understood. Changing it to make all physical punishment of children illegal would send a clear message to parents and also to social workers, doctors, teachers and the police. Neighbours and other onlookers who may previously have paused before intervening in a situation where a child could be in danger would know the law is on their side: hitting a child is not acceptable.

The most persistent myth I encounter when advocating for a change in the law is that removing the reasonable punishment defence will criminalise parents, leading to chaos in the court system and a backlog of good parents being charged. This is nonsense. It won't increase prosecutions because the Crown Prosecution Service will follow the same guidelines it does now in choosing whether or not to get involved.

What it would do, however, is make it easier for the courts to convict and protect children when they're being hurt by those who are supposed to care for them. A panicked smack on the back of the legs after a child runs into traffic may not be something I would advocate, but the parent administering it would be no more likely to end up in court than they are now.

I should admit that I have not always felt this way. As a young mother I smacked my first child. I didn't smack his siblings born several years later, perhaps because I was a little older and more confident in my parenting abilities. My son is now a grown man with a family of his own, and a few months ago we talked about his approach to smacking his three children. His response was tough to hear: “no Mam, we decided we wouldn't hit our children because I want to be a better parent than you.”

This, for me, says it all. It's not that he thinks I was a bad parent. Rather, that he wants to be better. Changing the law on the physical punishment of children isn't about judging those in the past who smacked their kids. It's about progress, and it's about our society working to improve so that each generation of children has a better life than the one before.

I know that my son isn't alone. A UK government report found that the majority of the supporters of smacking are over fifty and that only 7% of parents under twenty five ever smack their children. Changing the law would help support a change in culture that is already well underway.

Of course, it would have to be accompanied by public education and support for parents, so they can find more effective ways to discipline their children. Those who work with parents report that the misconception of the law makes it harder to deliver positive parenting messages, and changing it could open up a healthy discussion about parenting in Wales and make us all more conscious of how we treat our children, too. This change is not about unduly interfering with parenting. It's about driving progress in Wales and keeping children safe.

By Jocelyn Davies AM

Twitter: @parkgirl59

Nerf Tue 11-Nov-14 17:27:37

No I'd rather see clarity of the current law tbh but I'm in England. I don't think smacking is a great tool but I don't agree that adding stress to someone who has smacked their child (what if the child tells? What if the neighbours see? Etc etc) but is in no way an abuser would be positive at all. Campaign for better parenting and education then change the law.

siblingrevelryagain Tue 11-Nov-14 18:06:43

I think it's fine to add stress to parents who've lost it-they shouldn't hit kids, full stop. Zero tolerance is the only way for people to eventually get the message that hitting a child in unnacceptable in every circumstance.

Over time there have been many campaigns which have changed attitudes over what's socially acceptable (drink-driving, domestic abuse, sexism etc). I like to think that by the time my grandchildren are born it will be something they find hard to understand ever being legal.

northernlurker Tue 11-Nov-14 18:08:13

I agree. The intention may not be to criminalise parents like myself who have smacked - but in that case why does the linked document feature references to a number of serious and horrible child abuse cases?
I think this proposed change would inadvertently interfere with parenting without further protecting children.

northernlurker Tue 11-Nov-14 18:08:47

I agree with nerf not sibling obviously grin

Nerf Tue 11-Nov-14 18:14:39

I also think the language isn't interchangeable either - smacking isn't hitting. Hitting is abusive.
I agree that smacking should be on the way out but until we normalise parenting classes and alternative strategies beyond the pointless naughty step we will be creating stress and tension for parents who smack.

Nerf Tue 11-Nov-14 18:16:31

And maybe somebody won't be prosecuted but they will be subject to being reported, being questioned, being raised as a potential abuser, being charged - all those steps that come before a court case. So damage to all those little links in the community and family because neighbours schools and friends and children will feel they should report.

ItsAllGoingToBeFine Tue 11-Nov-14 18:36:32

Smacking is hitting!

Would you smack a work colleague if they did something wrong? What would you think would happen if you did?

northernlurker Tue 11-Nov-14 18:39:51

I don't spend 24 hours a day with my work colleagues, love them beyond description nor feel the responsibility on my shoulders for their furture character and decision making as well as their safety and comfort here and now.

Smacking IS widely understood to be distinct from hitting and it's pointless to compare the interaction between parent and child to anything else because nothing else is like that relationship.

Nerf Tue 11-Nov-14 19:08:46

Agree with northern. That relationship is different. I don't use smacking (I have smacked but moved on and have been lucky enough to benefit from a wide range of information ) but I don't agree that we should criminalise before educating.

Smartleatherbag Tue 11-Nov-14 19:32:16

I'd be delighted to see smacking made illegal.
I can see absolutely no justification for it. Physically chastising someone who relies upon you for their very survival seems utterly crazy to me.
It's not that long since it was considered ok for a man to physically chastise his wife or for a master or mistress to do the same with their staff.

ashtrayheart Tue 11-Nov-14 19:48:51

Smacking is a euphemism for hitting, I agree with this post.

northernlurker Tue 11-Nov-14 19:53:17

It really isn't. I have smacked my children. I have never hit my children. It would be nice to have that difference recognised without it being seen as a slippery slope to abuse and murder.

littleducks Tue 11-Nov-14 20:06:27

I don't follow the argument made in the OP. I don't think that it adds any clarity to change the law but state that the CPS wouldn't prosecute you for smacking a toddler for running in the road.

I think the law as it stands that you are allowed to smack your child and the line when it becomes illegal is when it leaves a mark is pretty clear.

If you want to campaign to ban smacking this should be done on the merits of that argument. Not under a pretence of a clarification.

Nerf Tue 11-Nov-14 20:08:43

I think it was me not the opportunity asking for clarity and education. I mean more in a public information.action way, rather than a hear say way.

littleducks Tue 11-Nov-14 20:19:00

My point was in response to the OP's statement: "but it's not about banning - it's about clarifying the law"

Poofus Tue 11-Nov-14 20:19:04

confused What is the difference between smacking and hitting?

SconeRhymesWithGone Tue 11-Nov-14 20:35:21

When I googled "defintion of hit" this is the first one that popped up"

bring one's hand or a tool or weapon into contact with (someone or something) quickly and forcefully

synonyms: strike, slap, smack, spank, cuff, punch, thump, swat

Smacking is a form of hitting.

SoonToBeSix Tue 11-Nov-14 21:11:49

Op I am shocked at your sons rudeness in declaring he wanted to be a better parent than you. He might be choosing not to smack his dc but is he going to teach them to be respectful?

SconeRhymesWithGone Tue 11-Nov-14 21:47:12

Perhaps he should have worded it differently, but I don't think there is anything wrong with an adult child (or younger child, for that matter) telling a parent that they didn't like some of their parents' discipline methods and why.

lougle Tue 11-Nov-14 21:48:35

I find it utterly surreal that people can be arguing over the semantics of 'smack' vs 'hit', when in response to another 'guest post' most posters advocate the right for a mother to do anything to her baby, whether it causes life-long disability or even death, because the baby still happens to be in her womb. confused

I agree with northernlurker, incidentally.

duplodon Tue 11-Nov-14 22:04:11

I have done a few of those panicked smacks. One was when my 2 year old flung his baby brother backwards in his hIghchair.Another was when he took off into traffic when I was heavily pregnant and he escaped my grip as I put him in the buggy. In both cases, I was suffering depression and severe anxiety, for which I was pursuing treatment aggressively. I don't agree wIth smacking one tiny bit but I would have been dangerously terrified if I feared prosecution for these instances, which were unthinking primitive replications of when MY mother was stressed and panicked, in unusually stressful circumstances. What would have been the benefit of criminalising me? I knew it was wrong, I regretted it, I was working HARD on

duplodon Tue 11-Nov-14 22:08:27

being a better parent in intensive therapy.... like you I have since had two other children I don't smack... I bet there are many like me who could literally be endangered by pursuing this criminally. I am not sure it is needed as it is dying out as a chosen method anyway and in the future it will wane incrementally as each generation strives to be better than the last. I do hope your son said this by the way, not the rude statement you posted.

chez2788 Tue 11-Nov-14 22:26:26

Smacking or hitting a child whichever word you use all comes down to the same thing .. hurting your child physically. So trying to use the defence of smacking and hitting as different is pointless. Both hurt them. There are other more effective ways of disciplining children. The problem is if you get so stressed with a child you physically harm a defenceless child where will it stop. It must be made more clear and illegal to hit a child full stop. I had a child run out onto the road I was more relieved they didn't get hit by a car than punishing them with a smack on the legs. A good talking to on road safety and what could have happened would be more effective than a slap.

SoonToBeSix Tue 11-Nov-14 22:39:39

I agree Scone, they is nothing wrong with not agree with parents discipline methods. It really was how it was worded.

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