Half of adults believe smacking should be banned in England

Over half of adults believe that smacking children should be banned in England and that the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ should be scrapped.

A survey of 3,500 people carried out by The National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) revealed that 52% of the public believe an outright ban on hitting children should be implemented and 71% say that hitting, slapping or shaking a child is ‘unacceptable’. Attitudes appear to be changing, as figures have increased from last year’s findings, demonstrating Brits are becoming less tolerant to physically reprimanding children.

There is currently a loophole in the law that states parents can ‘reasonably chastise children’, which means a parent can potentially justify physical punishment.

The report said that children are more likely to suffer from poor mental health when they are smacked, condemning the practice as “a complete violation of children’s rights”. It added that children who had been hit performed worse in school and were more likely to be physically assaulted or abused. The NSPCC says that physical abuse of children can lead to damage in adulthood that could lead to heavy drinking, drug use and suicidal thoughts.

Meanwhile, there has been resistance to a possible ban from opposing campaigners that say the charity survey is not ‘reflective of public opinion’.

Simon Calvert, of the Be Reasonable Campaign, said to media: “The law protects children from abuse. The reasonable chastisement defence only applies where parents do something reasonable like tap a tot on the back of the hand.”

Last month, a report in the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said that parents should be banned from smacking their children to stop long-term damage.

It said that current laws in England and Northern Ireland are “unjust and dangerously vague”.

The RCPCH said it was a “scandal” that Scotland and Wales had outlawed smacking – as they did in 2020 and 2022 respectively – and the other two home nations had not followed suit.

Sir Peter Wanless, NSPCC chief executive, said: “If an adult hits another adult because they don’t approve of how they’re behaving, it’s described as physical assault.

“But if a parent uses physical violence and harms their child by taking the same actions, the law considers it acceptable. This is not right.”

Last year the NPCC spoke about ‘equal protection’ for children following their annual survey, saying:

‘Talking about the need for equal protection from physical assault keeps the focus on the child’s need for protection, rather than the parent’s or carer’s desire to manage their child’s behaviour.

‘In fact, research shows that using physical punishment can lead to increased child behaviour problems over time. Families can get caught in a cycle: as a child misbehaves more often, parents rely on harsher forms of physical punishment – and the psychological effects of the punishment make the child’s behaviour even more problematic.’

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