“A smack is parents trying to hit you, [but] instead of calling [it] a hit they call it a smack.” — A seven year old (from It Hurts You Inside, Children’s Rights Alliance)
A proposed amendment to the Children and Young Person’s Bill, which would have outlawed the physical punishment of children, will not now be discussed or voted on in Parliament.
The time allotted to that discussion was reallocated to Alistair Darling’s announcement on bailing out banks with billions of pounds. The amendment — backed by 100 Labour MPs but not supported by the government — would have cost nothing. It would have simply have given children the same protection as adults against assault.
Why does the government want to keep the illogical and regressive law it passed in 2006 — one which justifies assaulting people who are least able to defend themselves, as “long as it does not leave a red mark or bruise”. Are children not people? Didn’t Gordon Brown say his own children were “people not props”? Perhaps there is one law for the children of Ministers and another for other peoples’ children.
The Children’s Minister Beverley Hughes gave the game away when she defended the government’s current law. She said: “We do not encourage or condone smacking [so why not repeal the 2006 law?] and we do not believe that it is the best means of controlling children's behaviour.” For Hughes, whatever her personal view on smacking, the child is still there to be “controlled”, marshalled into correctness. She will be thinking of the various ways that children and young people, invariably proletarian children, are “controlled” with high-pitched whistling noises built especially to ward off teenagers from shops, with curfews and with ASBOs.
Children need to be positively guided and encouraged into becoming more sociable and responsible as they mature. Other than physical hurt, all physical punishment achieves is humiliation and fear. The ability to reason and empathise with others are skills which come slowly to all human beings. There are no short cuts. Clearly Beverly Hughes still lacks some of those skills.
In most other places in Europe there are laws giving children the same right as adults: the right not to be hit. Not so in “modern” New Labour Britain. It is a disgrace.