By Luke Hewitt
Wales has become the second nation in the United Kingdom, after Scotland, to outlaw the physical punishment of children – piling the pressure on England and Northern Ireland to follow suit.
Under ‘The Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) Act 2020’, smacking, hitting, slapping and shaking are no longer acceptable forms of punishment. From March 21 any form of physical punishment used on a child is illegal in Wales and can result in arrest, assault charges and a criminal record, this law also extends to anybody visiting Wales.
Prior to this law, people accused of assaulting a child could enact the common law defence of “reasonable punishment”. It had been suggested that this defence created a legal grey area which allowed perpetrators of child abuse to avoid conviction.
Wales joins over 60 countries in banning all forms of physical violence against children. Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford said “I am delighted the physical punishment of children is now illegal in Wales. This is a historic achievement for children and their rights”.
Scotland successfully introduced their own so-called “smacking ban” 16 months ago. England and Northern Ireland are yet to introduce any legislation to address the issue.
A YouGov poll commissioned by the NSPCC found that 64% of 3000 adults surveyed in England believed it was time to change the law.
In 2019, University College London conducted a study on the long term effect of smacking on children. It found that children who experienced physical punishment at a young age were far more likely to develop behavioural and mental health issues in adolescence and beyond.
An author of the study Dr Rebecca Lacey suggested it’s high time England outlawed the practice: “It is time for England to follow suit and take notice of this well-established body of research and accept the evidence around the long term negative effects of harsh parenting and physical punishment on children’s health and happiness is irrefutable.”
Critics of the law suggest the Welsh government are overstepping their boundaries. Conservative AM for Aberconwy, Janet Finch-Saunders said “The state should not be telling people how to parent”. She also suggested the law would do more damage than good, “There are already laws in place… and it is not necessary to seek to criminalise parents. The impact on a child of a parent taken away by police is greater than the impact of a slight smack”.
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