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Domestic CP - September 2001

Daily Telegraph, London, 11 September 2001


An Act of cruelty

WE have no greater enthusiasm than Jim Wallace, Deputy First Minister of the Scottish Executive, for inflicting corporal punishment on children.

On the whole, we think it a happy development that, over the past 50 years, fashion has turned against smacking and parents no longer feel a responsibility to chastise their young physically.

But many mothers and fathers still do use corporal punishment, and find it an effective way of teaching their children to distinguish right from wrong. Until now, that has been their business.

We believe that it should remain so. These parents are not monsters. The great majority love their children every bit as much as those who do not believe in smacking or caning.

As for the very small minority who are cruel to their young, or do them actual harm, laws already exist to punish them and to protect their children.

But Mr Wallace is now saying that parents should no longer be free to choose whether or not to use corporal punishment. Under his proposals, which could become law in Scotland by the end of the year, parents who physically punish their young could be sent to prison.

Where the under-threes are concerned, the law that he suggests would ban a mother from so much as slapping a child's hand as it reached for an electric socket.

"If the child were in any imminent danger, it should be possible for an adult to restrain or remove the child from danger rather than punish it," he says, betraying an astonishing ignorance of real life and the parental instinct.

He would also make it a criminal offence for parents to shake children of any age. Nor would they be allowed to smack them on the head or strike them with a cane, a belt or any other implement.

Mr Wallace's law would introduce the state into an area where the state has no business to be.

One need only imagine what would happen if it were passed and invoked to realise how much distress it would cause: the arrival of the police; the arrest of the child's father or mother; the trial, with the child perhaps required to give evidence against one of his parents; the prison sentence or the fine that would cause hardship to the whole family, or break it up entirely.

Anybody with an ounce of humanity and common sense must surely see that this process would cause hugely more psychological damage to a child than any clip round the ear.

It is easy to imagine, too, how a disturbed teenager could abuse the law to inflict a terrible injustice on his parents.

What Mr Wallace is proposing is not only an assault on the freedom of parents to bring up their children as they think fit.

It is also likely to inflict far more cruelty than it can hope to prevent.

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Colin Farrell 2001
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