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HomeNewsIf smacking were child abuse, most parents would be criminals

If smacking were child abuse, most parents would be criminals


LOCKING up parents who administer a mild smack will do more harm to children than good, says Ciaran Kelly, a spokesman for the Be Reasonable Campaign.  

Picture a mother. She’s just taken her three kids with her to the supermarket to get the weekly shop. She’s now faced with a screaming toddler who refuses to get back into his car seat. No amount of chiding or cajoling makes any difference. Eventually she resorts to picking him up, wrestling him in and fastening the seatbelt.

She gets home and breathes a sigh of relief when the overtired tot finally goes down for his nap. Then there’s a knock at the door. It’s the police. She’s been accused of abusing her children and they’re here to investigate.

This is now a very real possibility in Wales, where last week ‘reasonable chastisement’ was outlawed. By definition, that means that certain forms of reasonable behaviour are now criminal. Behaviour such as smacking, or wrestling a child into a car seat. Unreasonable chastisement – the kind of actions which do harm children – was rightly, already illegal.

This hasn’t stopped some, such as Jawad Iqbal, using wild rhetoric to conflate reasonable chastisement with abuse. They call it ‘assault’, ‘beating’ and ‘domestic violence’. But smacking is none of those things. It is a gentle tap on the back of the hand or legs. A swift correction – a reminder not to do something again.

Smacking is not abuse. If it were, then the vast majority of parents in this country would be child abusers, given that 85 per cent of us were smacked as children. Even the Welsh Government’s own study reluctantly admitted there was simply no evidence to show that a mild, occasional smack – the sort which has just been made a criminal offence – was harmful.

Indeed, one expert, Professor Robert Larzelere, who was invited to give evidence to the review, was so incensed by the misuse of his testimony that he wrote to the Welsh Government complaining: ‘Having provided this information, I am concerned at how it has been used, or rather misused. Specifically some information I submitted has been misquoted, and other relevant peer reviewed research findings have been ignored.  

‘For example, the section on “Alternatives to physical punishment” fails to identify any alternative to persistent defiance for children under the age of three, and only makes a somewhat ambivalent endorsement of timeout for 3-to-7-year-olds. Of course, parents should be proactive and teach and reward appropriate behaviour, but those are not the disciplinary situations for which alternatives to smacking are needed. Removing privileges is only mentioned for “minor unwanted behaviours”. Our 2005 meta-analysis is cited incorrectly as concluding that “reasoning was more effective than smacking for enhancing positive child characteristics, but that non-physical disciplines (e.g. time-out, privilege withdrawal) were better for inhibiting misbehaviour.

‘The correct quote is, “When reasoning and nonphysical punishment were both compared with physical punishment, reasoning was more effective than nonphysical punishment for enhancing positive child characteristics, but nonphysical punishment was better for inhibiting misbehaviour”.That same meta-analysis showed that reasoning, privilege removal and isolation (an old label for time-out) were each less effective at reducing noncompliance and/or antisocial behaviour than was back-up smacking.’

Whatever your view on the rights and wrongs of smacking, ask yourself, should those who take a different view be criminalised? Time and again polls find three-quarters of us say ‘No’. Most think social workers and the police already have enough to do without investigating good families. Parents and children deserve better.

Astonishingly, the ban-peddlers want you to believe that criminalisation will not result in parents being given criminal records! That was certainly what parents in Wales were told. But the PR machine has changed tack now the law is here, and the public are told to dial 999 if they suspect a parent of smacking their child. Wales, like Scotland, is following the path of New Zealand where a dad had his two boys taken away after being convicted of lightly smacking them. The conviction was quashed, but by then the damage had been done.

The Welsh Government, like the Scottish Government before it, has said loud and clear: ‘We don’t trust parents.’ Westminster needs to say: ‘But we do.’

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Alistair Thompson
Alistair Thompson
Alistair Thompson is a political campaigner and director of Team Britannia PR.

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