Time to ban smacking in England, says Children’s Commissioner
England’s Commissioner for Children says the government should follow the lead of fellow UK nations Wales and Scotland in banning the smacking of children.
Dame Rachel de Souza has thrown her weight behind growing calls for England to do what other home nations and dozens of other countries worldwide have done, and outlaw the physical punishment of children.
She believes that it is essential that the law is changed in order to give children the same protection from a parent or guardian that they already have at school, where physical punishment against children has long been against the law. “I absolutely abhor, and I’m against, violence of any kind against children,” said Dame Rachel, whose role is independent from government.
“Because children are more vulnerable than adults, I think we do need to ensure that their rights are supported.”
Only last month a new law – known as the ‘smacking ban’ – came into effect in Wales, making any type of corporal punishment, including smacking, hitting, slapping and shaking, illegal in the country. Introduced under the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Act 2020, it signalled the end of the common law defence of “reasonable punishment”. Scotland introduced a similar ban in 2020.
In both of those countries, 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.
Speaking in an interview with Times Radio, 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.
‘I would be supportive if our government did the same’
“Scotland and Wales have done this (banned the physical punishment of children). So we’ve learnt a lot about what that would mean, as it goes into legislation,” she said.
“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.”
However her comments have so far not met with universal support in government. Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary in England, said he believed that parents ‘should retain the legal right’ to smack a child. He also said he believes there is a ‘very big difference’ between child abuse for which there are legal protections in place and a ‘light smack on the arm for a child by a parent’.
A recent survey commissioned by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children recently found more than two-thirds of adults in England believe it is wrong for parents or carers to physically punish their child, with 58 per cent thinking it was already illegal.
More than 60 nations worldwide have legislated against the physical punishment of children.