Smacking ban: Northern Ireland urged to follow Wales and protect children from physical punishment

Welsh deputy minister for social services Julie Morgan high-fives a child in celebration of the new law banning the physical punishment of children. The physical punishment of children is now outlawed in Wales.Welsh deputy minister for social services Julie Morgan high-fives a child in celebration of the new law banning the physical punishment of children. The physical punishment of children is now outlawed in Wales.
Welsh deputy minister for social services Julie Morgan high-fives a child in celebration of the new law banning the physical punishment of children. The physical punishment of children is now outlawed in Wales.
The NSPCC in Northern Ireland has said that a law change is long overdue to give children the same protection from assault as adults.

The NI Executive has been urged to follow the example of Wales, who today imposed a smacking ban outlawing the physical punishment of children.

The law will apply to everyone, even those visiting Wales. 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.

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Natalie Whelehan, policy and public affairs manager at NSPCC Northern Ireland, said: “Adults here are protected from being pushed, shoved, smacked or hit in any way by another adult but babies, toddlers and children are not afforded that same protection. In Northern Ireland, parents and carers who are accused of assault against a child can raise the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’.

“We have long campaigned for a legal change which would see ‘reasonable punishment’ removed as a defence for those charged with assaulting a child. Now we are calling, once again, on the Northern Ireland Executive to revisit this archaic anomaly with the utmost urgency and bring Northern Ireland into line with over 60 countries around the world who have made the change.

“As well as in Wales, the law has been changed in Scotland, Jersey and the Republic of Ireland, leaving children in Northern Ireland with less protection from assault than their peers in other parts of the UK and Ireland.

Natalie said a wealth of research shows that physical punishment is “ineffective” in changing the behaviour of children in the long term and can be extremely damaging for development.

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She said: “This is particularly relevant for Northern Ireland where last March, 2,298 children were listed on the Child Protection Register, with physical abuse the largest single cause for a child or young person being placed on it.”

Natalie added: “We believe that it is now vital that the Assembly listens to parents, reforms the law and gives them the information and support they clearly require, in line with its commitments on positive parenting. Parents have a range of methods open to them to discipline their children, but physical punishment should never be one of them.”

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

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer called on other areas of the UK to follow Wales.

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