A smacking ban in Wales moves a step closer today as plans to end physical punishment of children are formally set out.
The Welsh Government is seeking views on how it should remove the defence of reasonable punishment.
Minister for children and social care, Huw Irranca-Davies, will today launch a 12-week consultation on the Welsh Government’s proposal as part of what is described as a wider package of measures aimed at helping parents and giving children the best start in life.
First Minister Carwyn Jones has previously told AMs that ministers intend to legislate on the move from 2018. If passed by the National Assembly, it will mean that smacking and all forms of physical punishment against children in Wales will become illegal.
Father-of-three Mr Irranca-Davies said he knew there were differing views on the proposal and the consultation would provide a way to address this. He wants to support parents to feel confident using more effective methods of discipline than physical punishment.
Announcing the consultation the Welsh Government said it has a long standing record of working to ensure children have the best start in life and of promoting children’s rights.
“This is why the Welsh Government is now intending to bring forward legislation to make it clear that physically punishing a child is no longer acceptable in Wales.
“The proposed legislation would not involve the creation of a new offence. It would instead remove a defence to the existing offences of assault and battery. It would mean any adult looking after a child would no longer be able to use physical or corporal punishment against them.”
In 52 countries around the world children have the same protection as adults from assaultand are protected by law from all corporal punishment.
In Wales, as in England, it is currently lawful for a parent or carer to smack their child where it amounts to “reasonable chastisement”. This defence is laid down in the Children Act 2004, but it is not defined in the legislation.
Whether a “smack” amounts to reasonable punishment will depend on the circumstances of each case taking into consideration factors like the age of the child and the nature of the smack, according to legal experts.
Physical punishment is considered “unreasonable” if it leaves a mark on the child or if the child is hit with an implement such as a cane or a belt.
Scotland is expected to become the first part of the UK to introduce a ban on smacking children after the Scottish Government confirmed last October that it would be making the move.
The children’s commissioners of Wales, Scotland, England and Northern Ireland have all called for a UK-wide change in the law as has the NSPCC Cymru.
In Ireland the legislation which allowed parents to use force against their children was repealed almost 17 years ago, and a complete ban on smacking was introduced there in 2015.
Launching the consultation in Wales Mr Irranca-Davies said: “We all want to give our children the best start in life. As a parent of three boys myself, I know being a parent can sometimes be a challenging experience. Children do not come with an instruction manual and sometimes parents need guidance and support to help them raise healthy and happy children.
“Our knowledge of what children need to grow and thrive has developed considerably over the last 20 years. We now know that physical punishment can have negative long term impacts on a child’s life chances, and we also know it is an ineffective punishment.
“Whilst physically punishing children was accepted as normal practice in previous generations, we know that it is increasingly being seen as less acceptable and parents feel less comfortable
“We want parents in Wales to be confident in managing their children’s behaviour without feeling they must resort to physical punishment. If there is any potential risk of harm to a child then it is our obligation as a government to take action.
“Legislation was introduced many years ago to stop physical punishment in schools and child care settings – now is the time to ensure it is no longer acceptable anywhere.
“This is why as a government we are bringing forward legislation to remove the defence of reasonable punishment, to make it clear that physically punishing a child is no longer acceptable in Wales.
“I am aware there are differing views on this legislation; this consultation provides an opportunity for everyone to have their say to help us try to address concerns as the legislation develops.”
An NSPCC Cymru / Wales spokesman said: “The NSPCC has long campaigned for children in Wales to have the same protection against assault as adults so we welcome the steps being taken towards removing the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’.
“Doing so is a common-sense move which is about fairness and equality for children.
“It is wrong that a defence which does not exist in a case of common assault against an adult can be used to justify striking a child.
“Closing th this loophole will bring Wales in line with dozens of countries around the world and finally give our children equal protection under the law.”
Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales, said: “I said on the day I was appointed that I would work to give children the same protection in the law as adults. This consultation, for me, demonstrates a significant step forward in Welsh Government’s commitment to protecting children. If accepted, this will see Wales leading the way yet again in protecting children’s rights.
“There has been a lot of misinformation circulating during debates about this topic over recent months. Here are the facts: Welsh Government does not want to create a new criminal offence. Welsh Government does not want to criminalise parents. What Government does want to do is to ensure children living in Wales are afforded the same protection in the law as adults. Hitting or smacking a child is never loving or caring. I see no reasonable arguments against the ambition of this consultation.
“This consultation explains carefully and in detail the research evidence on the negative effects of smacking and the positive impact of authoritative parenting styles that do not include physical punishment.
Julie Morgan. Labour Am for Cardiff North, who has long campaigned on the issue, said: “I very much welcome the consultation about removing the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ and I’m very pleased the Welsh Government is committed to getting rid of this arcane legal loophole. I think it’s high time we changed the law and joined the 53 other countries who’ve done so including our near neighbours Ireland and, soon, Scotland too.
“t’s very important we have an open, honest and realistic debate and I welcome the opportunity for parents, carers, family members, organisations and professionals to have their say on how we can help bring about this change.
“For the vast majority of parents and carers nothing will change as they are already doing a great job of parenting and I hope that as a society we will soon come to see it as morally unjustifiable to hit children – as well as acknowledging that hitting doesn’t work as a punishment and that it also has harmful long-term effects.”