UK Doctors Urge Government to Ban Smacking Children

Pediatricians in the UK call for a ban on corporal punishment of children, citing evidence of harm and a shift in societal norms. The current laws create ambiguity, and experts urge legislative change to better protect children's rights.

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Rafia Tasleem
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UK Doctors Urge Government to Ban Smacking Children

UK Doctors Urge Government to Ban Smacking Children

Pediatricians in the United Kingdom are calling on the government to ban the use of corporal punishment on children in England and Northern Ireland, reflecting improving parenting norms and practices compared to previous generations. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) contends that current legislation creates "grey areas" that can justify the use of physical punishment in some cases, and wants politicians to campaign for amendments to better protect children's rights.

Unlike in Wales and Scotland, where any form of corporal punishment was made illegal in 2022 and 2020 respectively, the use of physical force against one's own children in England and Northern Ireland has yet to be banned. Parents can still cite "reasonable punishment" as a defense. The RCPCH urges the education secretary to change the law, citing evidence that smacking children makes them more likely to suffer poor mental health, do badly at school, and be physically assaulted or abused.

Experts say the vague nature of the laws makes it challenging to talk to families about what is acceptable and can even add complexity in identifying cases of child abuse. They also note that society's views on punishment have changed, with a majority of adults (67%) agreeing that physical punishment of children is unacceptable. The NSPCC and other organizations are calling on political leaders in England and Northern Ireland to commit to ending the physical punishment of children, as the rest of Britain has done.

Why this matters: The call for a ban on smacking children reflects a significant shift in parenting norms and practices, with a growing consensus among doctors and experts that physical punishment is harmful to children's well-being. The current legal situation in England and Northern Ireland creates ambiguity and potential loopholes that may enable the continued use of corporal punishment, despite evidence of its negative effects.

A report this week declared smacking a danger to children's mental health, with pediatricians urging the government to provide clarity and ensure that hitting children is never legal or acceptable. While some government ministers oppose a ban, arguing that it should be up to parents to discipline their children, the RCPCH maintains that changes to the Children Act 2004 and the Law Reform Order 2006 to remove the "reasonable punishment" defense are long overdue. "It is unfair and dangerously vague," a pediatrician from the RCPCH stated, emphasizing the need for legislative change to better protect children's rights.

Key Takeaways

  • UK pediatricians call for ban on corporal punishment of children in England, NI.
  • Wales and Scotland have already banned all forms of physical punishment of children.
  • Current laws create "grey areas" that can justify physical punishment of children.
  • Evidence shows smacking leads to poor mental health, academic performance, and abuse.
  • Majority of adults agree physical punishment of children is unacceptable.