UN urges Britain to outlaw smacking

The United Nations today urged the British Government to change the law which allows parents to smack their children.

In its report on the UK's record of protecting children it said the Government should outlaw all corporal punishment in the family.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child said it "deeply regrets" the UK retained the defence of "reasonable chastisement" despite the recommendations a damning report it published in 1995.

The 10-member group of international child welfare experts recommended the British Government instead promote "positive, participatory and non-violent" forms of


It said there should be a public education programme to stress the negative effects of corporal punishment.

A spokesman for the children's charity the NSPCC said: "The UN's report is absolutely right. UK law on this issue is wrong. It doesn't protect children from being hit and the Government should act immediately on the recommendations.

"The 1860 law of 'reasonable chastisement' is well past its sell-by date. It sends out a dangerous message to parents that hitting children is acceptable and safe, which it is clearly not.

"Children are smaller, weaker and more vulnerable. The least they deserve is proper legal protection from being hit as we adults enjoy.

"It works in other countries. Children in Germany, Sweden, Denmark and many other countries are protected from being hit by law, why not here too?

"Hitting children is not a solution, it's a lesson in bad behaviour. It's ineffective as a means of discipline and it can be emotionally and physically harmful."

According to the NSPCC at least one child a week in England and Wales dies as a result of abuse.

The committee said it remained concerned about the high rate of teenage pregnancies in the UK and recommended sex education to "all children".

It urged the Government to review the different policy of benefits for young mothers under the age of 16 and offer parenting courses.

The report also raised concern about the number of children suffering mental health problems and the high rate of suicides among young people.

It was not all bad news for the Government, with the committee praising its Children's and Young People's Unit, the abolition of corporal punishment in schools and implementation of the Human Rights Act into UK law.

The commitment to end child poverty was also welcomed, but the committee said far too many children were still being let down, with poor housing, homelessness, malnutrition and failures in education among its main concerns.

The Government's approach to asylum seekers came under fire with the panel suggesting the detention of children, either with their families or on their own, contravened the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

It called for the policy to be changed with detention used as a last resort and for short period of time.

Children seeking asylum should also be given basic services such as education and health, it said, and refugee families should not be discriminated against when it came to benefit handouts.

NSPCC Director Mary Marsh said: "We welcome the UN's report. The law cannot stay silent on important matters of child protection, which is why we want reform to protect children from being hit in the home.

"The current law of "reasonable chastisement", devised in the 19th century, is well past its sell-by date. It sends out a dangerous message to parents that hitting children is acceptable and safe, which it clearly is not."

David Hinchcliffe, Labour MP for Wakefield and chairman of the Commons Health Committee, said: "Article 19 of the UN Convention clearly requires the Government to protect children from all forms of physical violence and our law as it currently stands simply does not do this."

Mr Hinchcliffe, who worked in child protection before entering parliament said he had personal experience of "failing to back local authority social workers where they had intervened to prevent children being subjected to beatings.

"The 'reasonable chastisement' defence undermines our child protection agencies and undoubtedly results in children being ill treated and in some instances killed."

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