Government cops out on smacking

Submitted by AWL on 17 October, 2008 - 2:22 Author: Cathy Nugent

“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.


Submitted by david kirk on Tue, 21/10/2008 - 22:52

The hitting of children as punishment is obviously utterly wrong. It is obscene that children do not have the same protection against assault as adults.

However many parents who have on occassion smacked should not just be criminalised. In the society we live in the pressures and stresses on parents are massive. The time and space parents need to build for a truly nurturing environment to bring up children does not exist for most families. Parenting skills are often lacking and in many cases the sexual division of labour within the home mean men have nothing to do with nurturing children. In some situations smacking although un-excusable is often understandable.

We should continue call for a law against smacking as part of a programme for childcare and social care. We slso should point out the importance of reducing the working week and increasing holiday rights.

Submitted by Jason on Wed, 22/10/2008 - 10:53

Whilst it is true that part of protecting children should be a whole series of service provision- including rights for parents for flexible working, free 24 hour high quality children's centres, social housing, high quality public services for all workers and lots of help and support for parents- nevertheless the physical punishment of children and smacking should be outlawed.

This doesn't necessarily mean criminalisation of parents and certainly shouldn't be used as a weapon against working class families. However, it should be clearly illegal to hit children and when it is in the interests of the child to prevent abuse or suffering then legal sanctions are part of such an alternative.

As socialists we should be for a completely different way of running society- on the basis of workers' democracy. But that does not mean waiting for socialism before supporting or demanding progressive measures such as banning smacking and physical punsihment of children giving them the same rights as adults to not be assaulted.

Submitted by david kirk on Wed, 22/10/2008 - 21:18

Jason says:

"As socialists we should be for a completely different way of running society- on the basis of workers' democracy. But that does not mean waiting for socialism before supporting or demanding progressive measures such as banning smacking and physical punsihment of children giving them the same rights as adults to not be assaulted."

I agree we should back the ban but we should not necessarily back the penalties that might be imposed. Would we want under pressure parents and grand parents to be charged with assault? The law in this case and in all cases should be based upon the protection and welfare of victims (in this case the child) and the re-education of the offender so they will not inflict harm again. I think a mixture of child care support, parenting enducation and psychiatric help would be what we should advocate.

Submitted by Jason on Thu, 23/10/2008 - 09:38

I think there is of course a possibility of criminalising working class parents in way6 that is not supportive to even the children ostensibly meant to be protected. Legal sanctions should only be used in extreme cases I'd have thought- most of which may be covered by existing law.

Of course I'm no expert - this is the sort of law that would need to be planned consulting with children, trade unionists and other representatives of working class communities to draft. I do however agree with you and Cathy that there should be a law against smacking/physical assault of children.

Submitted by cathy n on Thu, 23/10/2008 - 14:24

The point about a ban on smacking is not to criminalise working class (or any other) parents who have occasionally not done well in a situation where they have felt unable to cope, for whatever reason, with the behaviour of their children, and used a smack. The danger of criminalisation is the argument the government uses (this, from the people who frame the legislation!) It is a red herring. From memory, where the law has been introduced it has not led to a rash of adults being prosecuted for the occasional smack, it has led, reportedly, to a drop in routine physical punishment.

Adults who in anger and on impulse e.g. barge into, push, physically lash out at another adult are not generally heavily criminalised, even though the adult who is hurt is within their rights to make a complaint. So too with a ban on smacking.

The point about a smacking ban is to lay down a marker that physical punishment of children is wrong, that children have rights, and that children should be equal members of society in respect of their physical well-being.

The law would be about (re-)educating adults.


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