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Domestic CP - July 2004

Corpun file 13757

Times of India on line, 6 July 2004

Britain will spare the rod, well almost

By Rashmee Z. Ahmed

LONDON: Tony Blair and Britain have allowed the smack of firm government to go missing in politically-correct policy-making by refusing to follow the European convention on banning all parental smacking, beating and corporal punishment of children.

Instead, late on Monday night, Britain's stiff and formal House of Lords expressed support for the "light tap" administered to erring British children.

Under the terms of a parliamentary Bill widely expected to become law in November, British parents who try a light tap on the back of their child's legs can still stay out of court and out of jail. Their children will not be taken into foster care if they hit but do not hurt; the family will not be broken up.

But, it will still change a 140-year-old English law that allows guardians and parents to offer "reasonable chastisement" to discipline their children.

And many believe it will change one of England's fondest euphemisms for schooldays and severity – "six of the best", which is a reference to the Victorian tendency to unashamed physical punishment. Corporal punishment was finally abolished in private English schools just five years ago.

But now, 21st century British parents may not punish a child in a way that "reddens the skin", leaves marks and bruises or causes physical or mental harm.

The British half-way-house is thought to spare the rod and still not spoil the child. It comes from a British prime minister who has publicly admitted to occasionally smacking his own four children.

The new law will fall someway short of the complete ban on corporal punishment in 12 European countries, including Sweden, the world's first to ban smacking as far back as 1979.

Somewhat surprisingly, the much-married, often-absent father Salman Rushdie is up in arms about Britain's pusillanimous response to parental brutality.

"Hitting is hitting", Rushdie declared in his role as drum-beater for the umbrella organization Children are Unbeatable. The organisation's Tony Samphier explained to TNN: "Salman has never hit his children. He feels strongly about human rights for all children".

Rushdie's fellow celebrity-campaigners include Virgin boss, Sir Richard Branson, Helen Fielding, the author of Bridget Jones's Diary and at least 200 more of Britain's beautiful people.

Blair is known to be wary of acquiring the label 'Nanny Blair'. His ministers fear that an outright smacking ban would lead to a flood of prosecutions over minor offences.

Already, England's police chiefs are warning the hit-but-not-hurt rule may lead to dozens of malicious complaints against parents.

© Bennett, Coleman and Co., Ltd. All rights reserved.

Corpun file 14036

The Guardian, London, 6 July 2004

Parents face dilemma after smacking vote

By Sarah Hall
Political correspondent

An unlikely alliance of lawyers, childcare professionals and politicians last night joined forces to condemn as unworkable plans to jail parents who administer anything stronger than a light smack to their children.

The change to the children bill, passed by the House of Lords last night by 226 to 91 votes, would see parents facing imprisonment for up to five years if they caused bodily harm to their child. But the compromise proposal would allow parents lightly to smack their children.

David Hinchliffe, the veteran Labour MP who plans to push for a complete ban when the bill returns to the Commons, said: "It's a recipe for lawyers to print money because they will still be arguing over whether an assault has been committed or not."

Roger Smith, of the Christian charity Care, which opposes a ban, said: "Having spent 10 years as a criminal prosecutor, I know the difficulty it is going to cause. You are looking for some form of physical evidence of bodily harm. But depending on when you see the result of the smack, whether it's five minutes after - when the skin is red - or 24 hours after when it isn't, then you would have a different prosecution decision."

Alan Levy QC said: "It is substituting one area of confusion for another. How is the parent to know what degree of force to use?" Tony Samphier, for the Children Are Unbeatable alliance, described it as "shameful, unjust and irresponsible", while the NSPCC said the "half-hearted reform ... sends out a dangerous and misleading message that violence towards children is safe and acceptable".

The sustained condemnation came after peers voted overwhelmingly, by 250 to 75, to reject a total ban on smacking. Both the government and the Conservatives imposed a three-line whip on peers forbidding them from supporting an outright prohibition.

No 10, determined to avoid accusations of a "nanny state", allowed peers a free vote on the amendment - introduced by the Liberal Democrat peer and QC Lord Lester - with Lord Goldsmith, the attorney general, endorsing it and warning that a complete ban would have the effect of "criminalising parents".

The final compromise - which still has to be endorsed by the Commons - restricts the 144-year-old defence of "reasonable chastisement," ensuring that parents can only use it for the very narrow, and relatively minor, offence of common assault.

cartoon by AustinUnder the measure, parents could be prosecuted for actual bodily harm, which carries a jail sentence of up to five years if their smacks lead to grazes, scratches, minor swelling, cuts, abrasions or bruises. Reddening of the skin would be permitted but only if it were transitory. But the government still faces a rebellion by Labour backbenchers when the bill returns to the Commons for a full debate in the autumn. Last night Mr Hinchliffe, who told BBC Radio 4's World at One that a number of members of the cabinet privately support an outright ban, insisted: "The fight goes on." But unless the government changes its mind - and it shows no sign of doing so - a complete ban is unlikely.

Last night's measure followed three and a half hours of intense debate, during which peers combined to condemn what Lord Lester described as "the serious social evil" of child punishment.

The crossbench peer, Lady Howe, a juvenile court magistrate for 20 years, warned that parents who smacked "should not be, as I believe there is a danger there should be, labelled child abusers".

Lord Laming, the peer who chaired the Victoria Climbié inquiry, warned that a complete ban risked "criminalising well-meaning and well-intentioned parents".

Lord Lester said the key question was not "whether parental smacking is undesirable - just as the use of violent language, screaming and swearing at a child is undesirable and a failure of parental authority - the question is whether all parental smacking should constitute a criminal offence even where it does not cause physical or mental harm".

But the Labour QC Lady Kennedy said parliament needed to "send a clear message" that all smacking was unacceptable. With the compromise amendment being forced on the government, Lord Goldsmith said: "Legally the Lester amendment would prevent the harming of children without criminalising parents for minor disciplinary steps."

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2004

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