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Domestic CP - March 2004

Corpun file 13137

Daily Mail, London, 8 March 2004

Smack your child and risk a criminal record

By Steve Doughty

THE rights of parents to smack their children are to be curbed under new laws to prevent 'abuse'.

Mothers and fathers who use corporal punishment will be stripped of the legal defence that their action is 'reasonable chastisement', the Government said yesterday.

The change will mean that any form of punishment more than a fleeting slap will put a parent over the line into criminality.

Ministers say their reforms are not meant to outlaw smacking but to prevent murderous parents from escaping conviction.

However, campaigners for the rights of parents warned that the new law will put families at risk of criminal prosecution and give social workers new powers to intrude into family homes.

Tony Blair and senior ministers have denied repeatedly that they intend to ban smacking. Last week's Children Bill, meant to prevent abuse of the kind that led to the murder of eight-year-old Victoria Climbie four years ago, contained no provision for any change to the 'reasonable chastisement' law.

However, Education Secretary Charles Clarke yesterday slipped out the Government's intention to support an amendment to the Bill tabled by a senior Labour MP, David Hinchliffe, that will change the wording of the law on parental rights to punish.

Two years ago Mr Hinchliffe, chairman of the Health Select Committee and a former social worker, won Government backing for his amendment to allow gay couples to adopt children despite earlier denials from ministers that any such thing was contemplated.

An aide to Mr Clarke said yesterday: 'There is concern that some child killers go free using the "reasonable chastisement" loophole.

'We have not yet decided what form of words may replace reasonable chastisement. When an amendment is put forward, we will look at it.

'But there is no question of banning smacking.

'There is no intention of making criminals of a mum or dad who gives their child a slap in Sainsbury's because they are playing up.' The Government has been constantly pushed by children's charities and pressure groups to ban smacking, although opinion polls show that nine out of ten members of the public back the right to smack.

Critics of the law change warned yesterday that the Government intends to use it to intrude into family life.

Jill Kirby, of the Tory-leaning Centre for Policy Studies, said: 'The law at the moment is very clear and perfectly capable of winning convictions in cases of real abuse.

'This law change is about the state moving in to make decisions about what can and what cannot happen in families.' Lynette Burrows, author of a study into the family and corporal punishment, said: 'This is government by pressure group - ministers responding to unrepresentative minorities who want to dictate what parents may and may not do.

'We are in the position where schools can do nothing to control children, police cannot curb them and now the last authority, parents, is being undermined.

'This law change will also give social workers - not the most respected group in society - threatening new powers to intrude into families.' The wording of the new law will prove crucial. An attempt to ban smacking of children under the age of three in Scotland failed in 2002 largely because no workable language could be found.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Solo Syndication Limited

Corpun file 12987

Newham Recorder, London, 19 March 2004

Unpunished can get out of hand

Smacks of a dilemma

Reflections of the past

By Robert Barltrop

AS the project to bar parents from smacking their children is brought forward again, I think of a stout lady on the balcony of some flats.

This was near here, not many years ago. She was leaning over the rail and addressing a boy of about nine down below, who presumably had done something to make her red-faced and indignant. What she said, loudly, was: "I'll bloody kill you. You ain't goin' to no Karate tonight."

It might be called ambiguous. Did she mean he wouldn't be going to Karate because she'd killed him, or that she intended to with-hold him from his Karate and then kill him as an extra punishment? I had understood Karate to be a deadly form of combat, but if a young student of it could be whacked by an overweight lady there can't be much in it. Most of us know, of course, that this stuff is a common part of the small change of parents coping with children. It seldom means anything. My mother frequently threatened me with a thick ear or a good hiding; I don't remember her hitting me at all, my father doing so only a couple of times.


Failing to keep promises to children is supposed to be bad business. Not those; we knew how to sift the minority which were real from the theatrical majority, and no doubt that is still the case.

But if smacking is banned, what happens over such promises? As we are now a good deal nearer to 1984 than we were in 1984, maybe children will be encouraged to report parents who speak about giving them hidings; or a newly created official department instal closed-circuit TV to keep watch on the stout lady in her home.

As indicated, I was smacked now and then. Each of my three sons was smacked by me at some time in his childhood. In my twelve-and-a-half years teaching I caned boys occasionally; about once a year, I think.

I am not going to say it did me and them no harm, because I don't know: leaving aside physical injury, which is outside the scope of "smacking", what is harm? I don't remember the reasons. One was, possibly, an immediate need to stop a child doing something dangerous or unpleasant (oh, I can recall why my father spanked me once. I bit my little-gentleman cousin).


However, there is a wider reason: what will not be tolerated in a community. As a part of their growth, children test the limits of permitted behaviour. Being shown definite answers, they acquire a social framework – and the knowledge that transgressing it can mean getting punished.

The anti-smacker will say there are other ways of providing answers. Sure; I have used them for the most part myself. The worst thing I know about smacking, likewise caning in schools, is that it is too often a lazy way of dealing with difficulties. Nevertheless, at times it is the only practical one.

If smacking were outlawed, would the result be nicer young people in a gentler world? We have evidence on the matter. In the last twenty years yobboism has become a widespread curse: mobs of near-wild children and adolescents, foul-mouthed, full of spite and destructiveness, in the streets of almost every town.

Yet they are the generation for whom caning in school – and cuffing, shaking or any of the equivalents – was abolished. Though not yet forbidden, smacking by parents is frowned-on so there is less of it than ever before. Look round at the outcome. Not for the first time, the reformers have misjudged the state of the family and society.

Copyright 2004 Archant Regional. All rights reserved.

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