It would be wrong to decree that all parents who ever smack a child are guilty of assault

News Letter editorial
News Letter editorial

It is almost 40 years since Sweden became the first country, in 1979, to ban all corporal punishment in the home.

The notion did not catch on quickly, but now seems set to sweep the western world.

There are more than 50 countries that have such a prohibition on physical punishment, including France, Germany and the Republic of Ireland.

Scotland has announced that it plans to follow suit with such a ban, which not only has the support of the largest political party there, the SNP, but also of other parties including the Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

This means that it is probably only a matter of time before a ban is introduced in the rest of the UK.

When proposals like this take hold, ranging from smoking ban to gay marriage, opposition to them quickly becomes unfashionable and the preserve of a small minority of politicians.

With regard to this debate, who will want to defend the ‘assault ‘of children?

But hard and serious debate needs to take place as to whether smacking children is indeed an assault. Of course it can become so, and that is entirely unacceptable (and in any event already illegal), but if a child is very badly behaved, as almost all of us were at some point in our own childhood, it is absurd to say that a parent who responds with a proportionate slap has “assaulted” them.

And we need to make very clear that illegality will mean that such a parental response in any situation, no matter how extreme the child’s wrongdoing, will mean that the parent is guilty of an assault.

Language is important: the law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland allows for “reasonable chastisement” and that is exactly the term that should be used. It is reasonable chastisement, not assault, that many parents still believe in, and politicians who support that principle must defend it.