Ban smacking, children's tsar urges

Maggie Atkinson Ms Atkinson, who has two adult stepchildren, was appointed in 2009

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Parents should be banned from smacking children, the Children's Commissioner for England, Maggie Atkinson, has said.

She told the Independent the law gave pets and adults more rights to protection from violence than children.

There was a legal "loophole around the fact that you can physically chastise your child", she added.

She called for a total ban under which parents could face criminal action. But she said that actively campaigning for a ban would not be a priority.

Under current laws, mild smacking is allowed but any which causes visible bruising, grazes, scratches, swellings or cuts is not.

Child smacking and the law

  • UK parents have not been explicitly prohibited from smacking their children.
  • The 2004 Children's Act removed the defence of "reasonable chastisement" in England and Wales for any punishment towards a child that leads to bruising, swelling, cuts, grazes or scratches.
  • Any adult found guilty of breaking the law may face up to five years in jail.
  • Similar laws exist in Scotland and Northern Ireland
  • Physical punishment is prohibited in all maintained and full-time independent schools, in children's homes, in local authority foster homes and Early Years provision.

Ms Atkinson told the paper: "Personally, having been a teacher, and never having had an issue where I'd need to use physical punishment, I believe we should move to ban it.

"Because in law you are forbidden from striking another adult, and from physically chastising your pets, but somehow there is a loophole around the fact that you can physically chastise your child. It's counter-evidential."

She said it was "a moral issue" and "taken to its extreme, physical chastisement is actually physical abuse".

She had never understood "where you can draw the line between one and the other" and it was "better that it were not permitted", she added.

But she said her office would not be campaigning for a ban next year "because there's a lot of other things in the queue".

A government spokeswoman told the paper that, while ministers did not "condone violence towards children", they did not "wish to criminalise parents for issuing a mild smack".

The NSPCC has said evidence is building that smacking is "ineffective and harmful to children".

"There are more positive ways to discipline children and a clear message that hitting anyone is not right would benefit all of society," a spokesman said.

'Middle-class legislators'

Start Quote

I don't hanker for the days when children were severely beaten at school”

End Quote Justice Secretary Chris Grayling

Earlier this year, Justice Secretary Chris Grayling told the Mail on Sunday he smacked his own children when they were young and defended the right of parents to smack their children.

The Conservative minister, who has two grown-up children, told the paper: "You chastise children when they are bad, as my parents did me.

"I'm not opposed to smacking. It is to be used occasionally.

"Sometimes it sends a message - but I don't hanker for the days when children were severely beaten at school."

And last year, Labour MP David Lammy said parents should be allowed to smack their children without the fear of facing jail.

The MP for Tottenham told a Mumsnet webchat that politicians should spend less time telling parents what to do.

He said it was "too easy for middle-class legislators to be far removed from the realities of the typical single mum".


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  • rate this

    Comment number 1745.

    this woman has got no common sence, she should put efforts in getting agenceis to work together for children safety. smack is a smack no harm the current law makes parents scared to disapline there children and that is going to be an issue that the goverment will need to address in later years with more prisons and more police to crub anti socal behaviour.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1744.

    All children are different. Some respond to a word or a look, some need a physical reminder of the rules. Many boys, I am sure, would much prefer a quick smack to having to stand in a corner for an hour ( my brother never forgave my father for that!). It's a case of knowing your child. And therefore should be the parents choice.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1743.

    A very small minority of left-wing, politically correct, Guardian-reading, do-gooder apologists have had this country over a barrel now for a couple of decades - the UK has become a depressing, oppressive nanny state, hell-bent on legislating absolutely everything. How to destroy a country in 20 short years.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1742.

    Smacking your children is appropriate in moderation. The PC Brigade are out in force yet again.

  • Comment number 1741.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1740.

    wish my neighbour would smack her 4, she makes my ears bleed with her constant shouting at them, obvious it does no good, some just need more chastisement than others.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1739.

    1705. That the issue is to do with parents who can't parent ? Or to do with a tsar who can't tsar ? Or that the tsar is taking the lowest common denominator, and applying it to everyone. (1735) The issue is not physical force. The issue is responsibility. If you have anger issues, go to the gym and use a punchbag, then come back and discipline.
    Ed80, that book is not about responsible parenting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1738.

    @1726 Trina
    Little Ms No-Smacks should get her childhood priorities right and it isn't criminalising parents who care about their kids.

    Strange concept I care enough about my children to hurt them!

  • rate this

    Comment number 1737.

    1696. kendodsdadsdogsdead "I was brought up .. in a Catholic school and was beaten every day ... it did do me harm"

    And therein you lose your argument. Being smacked reasonably gently say once a year is not at all the same thing as the constant physical abuse you suffered ... sorry that happened to you. If I kiss my child I am a good mother. If you do it, you will be arrested. See the difference?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1736.

    We are talking about a smack with the palm of the hand. Not a punch.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1735.

    Message to children ... I'm bigger and stronger than you, so it's ok to use violence to get what I want.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1734.

    "People love linking 2 things together so here's another:
    Smacking in schools was banned in 1989.
    The troubled youth we have terrorizing our streets and antisocial kids just happen to start going to school after this."

    Rubbish, absolute rubbish. There were moral panics about punks in the 70s, mods& rockers in the 60s, teddy boys in the 50s, and razor gangs in the 20s.

  • Comment number 1733.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1732.

    Having taken my child's toy from him in front of my eyes, his mother told me that she would return it to me the following day as her child refused to return it immediately when asked. It seems now that not only is their no longer any discipline in schools but some parents either do not know or are to scared to enforce correct behavior on there young. Lock your doors and hide the kids are coming.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1731.

    If you have the time and presence of mind to strike your child with sufficient force to scare alarm and harm the child, you have the time to act in an equally peacefully non-violently dignified yet equally attention catching manner.

    Parenting isn't always easy. Adversity reveals character. If a difficult situation arises, so too does a great opportunity to lead by example to impressionable eyes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1730.

    The difficulty we would have is policing this law. Hoving worked in Child protection for 18 years I have learned how to differentiate between what is child abuse, and what is inappropriate parenting., We know that smacking your children is not effective parenting, however if you criminalise smacking all parents are going to come under the child protection umbrella and this will cause problems

  • rate this

    Comment number 1729.

    from 11/12/13

    "Make it a point never to use your hand for spanking. The hand swatting is a release of the parent's own frustration. Furthermore, where the child is concerned, the hand is for loving, not martial arts."

    From a guy who's made millions from child S&M manuals

  • rate this

    Comment number 1728.

    Surely this is the very epitome of Nanny State.

    While I respect Dr Atkinson should be the voice of children, she shouldn't reason like one - this reasoning in a vacuum typifies this shambolic government. Parents are under unprecedented pressure - more should be done to allow them more time with their children, after successive governments disguised compulsion for both to work as 'choice'.

  • rate this

    Comment number 1727.

    1636. Audentior - "According to Albert Speer, Adolf Hitler always claimed that the beatings he received at the hands of his father never did him any harm..."

    So a 2nd hand anecdote that implies what? Disciplining your children will turn them into mass murderers?

    Was it his Father (age 1-5), Step-father (5-10) or uncle (10+).

    Maybe his illegitimacy, or 'blended' family life are to blame?

  • rate this

    Comment number 1726.

    Heard a horrible man speaking in a despictably harsh and unwarranted way to his 8 year old (I presume it was his kid). Whole shop stopped and listened, then muttered about bad parenting and how the lad deserved a better Dad. Little Ms No-Smacks should get her childhood priorities right and it isn't criminalising parents who care about their kids.


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