Labour says people who indoctrinate children with religion may also be allowed to hit them

Submitted by AWL on 26 January, 2010 - 11:51 Author: Elaine Jones

Although smacking is banned in state and private schools a loophole in the law means that while teachers in state and private schools are banned from smacking children, part-time teachers of religion are not. (Guardian 30.1.10)

Teachers who take pupils for fewer than 12.5 hours of lessons a week have the same status as someone who is standing in for a parent, and can therefore give a child a mild ‘smack’. They can plead the defence of "reasonable punishment".

The issue has been raised by Ann Cryer MP, who wants the loophole closed. In response Ed Balls, children’s secretary, said, "The defence of reasonable punishment may be available to those who teach in certain part-time educational and learning settings, for example religious instruction that children attend at the weekend. I am concerned to establish the key issues here and whether this is an area in which we need to consider a change, in the interests of strengthening safeguards for children."

So the government will "think about it" and establish the key issues. Those issues are clear.

We have a Government who has increased the number of religious schools and fall over themselves in pandering to the leadership of the those religions who want to increase their dominance at a time when the numbers of people who describe themselves as religious is declining. By doing so they erode accountability and give more power to those who think children should accept irrational ideas without question, who think that abortion should be banned and that children should ‘respect’ their elders on fear of punishment.

It seems to have slipped their memory what happens when teaching is done by churches, what happened in Catholic schools and how abuse of children was covered up. How for Islamic fundamentalists woman in particular should be taught to obey men, so beating from an early age will do them good. Societies views on punishment being good to shape peoples' behaviour comes from the medieval churches' views on pain and suffering being good for you.

The idea that religious education should have fewer controls over the teaching of children than public and private schools is a violation of the rights of children. Smacking should be banned for anyone who is responsible for the care of children especially those teaching religion.

Corporal punishment – the hitting and physically assaulting with the cane/ slipper or bat was only banned in schools in 1987. Many people have stories on what that meant in their school. For those boys attending Rock Ferry Secondary school on the Wirral it meant that school felt like Borstal – they were caned, hit with cricket bats and in P.E. they were hit as part of the lesson. In Birmingham it meant getting hit if you were the working class kid in the Grammar school. Some people laugh and say it toughened them up, if you weren’t so tough you were hurt and humiliated. Children would get the cane on the first day of junior school. Some teachers were worse than others, many liked and used their power to threaten and humiliate. I think, (though it’s not based on any research) that most people recognise that the banning of hitting of children by teachers in schools was a good thing and wouldn’t support its return. Education can only have benefitted as a result of the ban.

However attitudes to the hitting of children by parents are different.

Balls goes on to say: "We recognise that whilst it seems that fewer parents smack their children, most currently do not believe they should be banned from doing so by law.’
The schools minister, Vernon Coaker, who clearly thinks its fine for people to hit children, said he feared a change in the law could create "unintended problems" such as stopping fathers from smacking children they care for, but for whom they do not have parental responsibility.

What about parents' rights, they say, don't parents have a right to discipline their children how they choose to?

No, they don't. Nobody has the right to hurt another person. Children are people and aren’t a possession to do with what you like. So, it is illegal to hit them once they’re 18 but okay when they are younger and more vulnerable.

In the UK it is legal for parents and carers to hit a child so long as it doesn’t leave a mark. Once your 18 it is illegal, any younger it's fine!

Children have no choice about who their parents or carers are, they trust the people who care for them and yet for many they are constantly threatened and punished. Every day they are told ‘wait till I get you home’, ‘you’ll get hit so hard’, ‘what do you think you’re dad will do when he finds out what you’ve done’ – they are controlled by threats of violence, punishments or ‘just’ ridiculed and humiliated.

Growing up in this environment children will learn to hit and threaten others or they will learn to be afraid and likely to be bullied. Such threats might make children ‘behave’ for a bit, if continued it may build up resentment or it can make children even more affectionate towards the person they fear. Whatever the immediate result it can have complicated affects on behaviour and self-confidence.

Some people say that although they agree with that in general that there are times when you just snap, you don’t know what else to do. And I think it is the case that sometimes people who have lashed out feel terrible and upset after. It is also the case that sometimes people just don’t know what to do – their child is biting other children at nursery, their boy head butts and kicks just when slightly irritated, they are embarrassed by their children's disruptive and often violent behaviour. However what we do about it is shaped by what society says we should do. In general society thinks that low level threats of punishment is the right way to treat children, that children should be controlled, that normal expressions of lively, loud and physical behaviour should be stopped and, instead of patiently trying to explain, we should save our embarrassment and others disapproval by low level violence and threats.

In response to those who say ‘well it did me no harm’ I’d say maybe you weren’t severely psychologically damaged but tolerance of that low level violence, bullying and intimidation shapes and reinforces certain patterns throughout our lives. It teaches you to be afraid, wary or to be violent, it distorts personalities and relationships.

Some people who are against banning will say we don’t condone violence we just think that it’s fine to give children an occasional ‘slap’. The word ‘slap’ implies a mild reproach but it means hitting and as with any punishments hitting tends to increase if the ‘naughty behaviour’ is repeated, the violence escalates and then where is the line drawn between ‘reasonable’ and unreasonable punishment. Who can say how much a hit by an adult hurts a toddler? Let alone the physical hurt, worse is the emotional hurt and feeling of betrayal and fear of the people who are supposed to care for you.

A ban on smacking would be a clear message that physical punishment is wrong. Such bans would help create an environment where violence and abuse of children is considered something that society does not condone. Legal changes in and of themselves will not eradicate the violence that goes on in many families, only a society which gets rid of poverty and transforms the role of the family will do that but a legal change would at least demonstrate that it is not considered acceptable to hit children and hopefully have the effect on attitudes that the banning of hitting children in schools has had.

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