Smacking is like child abuse - claim

SMACKING is like child abuse, the woman who speaks on behalf of children has claimed.

Northern Ireland's Children's Commissioner Patricia Lewsley, who 10 days ago lost a court appeal to ban parents from smacking their children, said that she would not give up in her attempts to ban smacking – which so far have cost taxpayers about 200,000.

In her first interview since losing the case, the former SDLP politician confirmed that she would like to appeal to the House of Lords if that was feasible.

Asked whether she made any distinction between physical abuse where someone deliberately set out to harm a child, and a loving parent smacking their child in the hope it would make them a better person, Ms Lewsley told the News Letter: "No. Children have told us that hitting is humiliating. Even though they would say their parents are loving and caring, it is still humiliating."

Ms Lewsley stressed that the smacking case was not the totality of her work and that she was engaged in a series of other schemes to help children. She said that she believed a "fair percentage" of young people were aware of her office.

With regard to the smacking case, Ms Lewsley said that she would be meeting her legal advisors "shortly" to decide on whether to pursue an appeal to the House of Lords.

She said that if the legal advice was that it was both within her budget and had a reasonable chance of success, she would like to pursue the case.

"We don't make a decision lightly – we have criteria that we work by with any legal case that we take," she said.

However, Ms Lewsley said that the legal challenge was only one route towards outlawing smacking.

The mother-of-five said that she did not want to criminalise parents.

Asked how smacking could be outlawed without criminalising parents who smacked their children, Ms Lewsley said that "it's about positive parenting strategies" and reiterated that she "didn't want to see parents dragged through the courts".

Instead, she said they should stop smacking their children as has happened in schools.

She said that most parents who speak to her say that they "hit their children" out of stress, frustration or anger, but there are other methods of discipline such as "time out" which would allow both parties time to consider their actions.

The commissioner also said that children should be treated equally to adults.

However, when asked whether, in light of this belief, children should then be able to vote in elections, Ms Lewsley said: "Yes," but then added "at an age to be agreed."

And, when queried about whether young people should be treated equally to adults if they wanted to join the Army, she said: "It's not something I've really thought about... I would have huge reservations... the UN said that they should not be going to fight until they are at least 21."

Ms Lewsley said that she taught children about their rights but did not see it as her role to teach them their responsibilities: "We don't have to say to young people 'You will only get this particular right if you prove yourself responsible'. When you give young people their rights, all of that comes with it."