21 April 2022

Education Secretary rejects call for a smacking ban in England

21 April 2022

Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi has rejected a call from the children’s commissioner for a ban on smacking children in England.

Dame Rachel de Souza signalled her support for changing the law to give children the same protection from assault as adults.

Such a change would bring England into line with the legal position in Scotland and Wales.

But Mr Zahawi said he did not believe the state should be “nannying” parents about the way they bring up their children.

Dame Rachel de Souza (in hat) thinks England should consider following Wales and Scotland in banning smacking of children (Yui Mok/PA) (PA Archive)

“My very strong view is that actually we have got to trust parents on this and parents being able to discipline their children is something that they should be entitled to do,” he told Times radio.

“We have got to just make sure we don’t end up in a world where the state is nannying people about how they bring up their children.”

Earlier Dame Rachel said said it was important that children’s rights are protected.

“I absolutely abhor, and I’m against, violence of any kind against children,” she told Times Radio.

“Because children are more vulnerable than adults, I think we do need to ensure that their rights are supported.”

Wales last month made any type of corporal punishment, including smacking, hitting, slapping and shaking, illegal in the country.

The Welsh Government outlawed the physical punishment of a child in March (Welsh Government/PA) (PA Media)

The “smacking ban”, as it is known, was brought in under the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Act 2020 and marks the end of the common law defence of “reasonable punishment”.

Parents or anyone who is responsible for a child while the parents are absent can now face criminal or civil charges if they are found to have physically disciplined a young person in any way.

Critics of the law change have said it will criminalise parents, but the Welsh Government insisted the move was about protecting children’s rights.

Scotland introduced a ban in November 2020.

Previously, and as is still the case in England and Northern Ireland, smacking a child was unlawful, but such an assault was allowed as long as it constituted “reasonable punishment”.

Whether the defence was accepted depended on the circumstances of each case, taking into consideration factors such as the age of the child and the nature of the contact, including whether it left a red mark or was carried out with a fist or implement such as a cane or belt.

Dame Rachel urged ministers to look at how the legislation moved through the Welsh assembly and said she would support a decision to follow suit. She said Scotland and Wales had banned the physical punishment of children, “So we’ve learnt a lot about what that would mean, as it goes into legislation.

“I think we’ve got a great opportunity to look, watch it, as it’s embedded (in Wales), and I would be supportive — certainly, from what I’ve seen so far — I would be supportive if our government decided to do the same.”

Although Dame Rachel acknowledged that “protections” for children are already “enshrined in law” in England, she expressed admiration for the actions of the Scottish and Welsh governments, adding: “It’s certainly something that I think we should consider.”

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer previously said the move should be mirrored in England and Northern Ireland, calling it “the right thing” to do.

A survey commissioned by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children found more than two-thirds of adults in England believe it is wrong for parents or carers to physically punish their child, with 58% thinking it was already illegal.

More than 60 nations worldwide have legislated against the physical punishment of children.

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