NEXT month the Welsh government will introduce a ban on parents smacking their children. The change to the law will see the defence of reasonable chastisement removed, meaning that a parent who uses any form of physical punishment could be investigated, charged and prosecuted for common assault. Even if found not guilty, the fact that they were investigated or charged will still be recorded on official databases, affecting anyone who requires a DBS (Disclosure and Barring Service) certificate because of their job or volunteering.
You might think this all sounds perfectly reasonable; indeed some pro-ban politicians cite research linking smacking to abuse – but they conveniently ignore other research showing that mild physical punishment of the type we are talking about here has no impact on the child and in some studies has been found to be effective in moderating bad behaviour.
There are other problems too. During the passage of the legislation Welsh government officials and ministers who repeatedly claimed that these changes were needed to protect children from serious abuse (which is already illegal) also claimed that the ban would not criminalise loving mums and dads.
Indeed in a 2018 document, Removing the ‘defence of reasonable punishment’, used as part of the consultation process by ministers and officials, the Welsh Government stated: ‘Will this criminalise some parents?We understand this fear. But this hasn’t happened in other countries that changed their law. In New Zealand, the police data shows no rise in reports or in parents being prosecuted for “light smacking”.’
However, a recently published factsheet, Ending Physical Punishment in Wales, contradicts these statements. It confirms that parents found to have physically punished their child ‘could be charged with common assault’ and receive a criminal record.
In the guidance for organisations and people who work with children outside formal education and childcare, the Government says you should call the police or social services if you see or suspect a loving parent is smacking their child.
‘What should I do if I see a child being physically punished or if I am concerned about a child? Contact your local social services department. You can also call the police in an emergency, or if a child is in immediate danger,’ it says.
‘There are lots of types of physical punishment. It can mean smacking, hitting, slapping and shaking. But there are other types too. It isn’t possible to give a set list of what makes up physical punishment because it can be anything where a child is punished using physical force.’
This most worrying line here is that it seems impossible to come up with a definitive list, confirming the concerns of the campaign group Be Reasonable that changing the law would criminalise any ‘unauthorised contact’, just as the former Children’s Minister Leighton Andrews admitted in 2015 when the ban was previously discussed and rejected.
At the time he told the Welsh Assembly: ‘The effect of amendments 46 to 67 is not only to criminalise smacking, but also any other touching of a child in Wales by a parent for the purpose of administering discipline . . . Any touching of another person, however slight, may amount to a battery. For example, a parent who forcibly lifts a misbehaving child would be guilty of battery.’
There are some who say that this will not happen, that social workers and police officers will exercise their professional judgement, but the sad truth is there are many examples when common sense and officials seem to be complete strangers, so why would it be any different for the smacking ban?
The answer is it would not be. This view strengthened by evidence from New Zealand, which shows how the smacking ban has criminalised hundreds of parents, damaged families and done nothing to tackle serious abuse.
And the cost of introducing this craziness? A snip at just over £3.7million, including nearly £1million for extra policing, court and Crown Prosecution Service costs.
No, the smacking ban in Wales is a dangerous and expensive ideological policy that will not only fail to make children safer but is an unnecessary intrusion into family life – a example of the state telling loving parents that it knows better, when all the evidence is that it does not.