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Tuesday, 11 September, 2001, 11:04 GMT 12:04 UK
Is it right to ban smacking?
The Scottish government wants to ban parents from smacking children under the age of three.

The proposals will also see a ban on corporal punishment by other carers of small children.

Currently, the law prohibits "unreasonable chastisement" of children. The Scottish Justice Minister, Jim Wallace, says the new rules with help the courts decide what reasonable chastisement is.

But the move has been criticised as "misconceived and unnecessary" by Scottish Conservatives, who see it as part of the government's "insatiable desire to legislate".

Is this legislation necessary? Will it protect children from violence or simply interfere with the rights of parents to impose discipline?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.

Your reaction

This sort of chastisement is most likely to cause physical damage

Alison, UK
I agree that banning all smacking is over-legislation. However, I do agree that no child should ever be smacked on the head or shaken, and so criminalising this would be a good idea. This sort of chastisement is most likely to cause physical damage, and anyone with common sense ought to be able to see that.
Alison, UK

Banning smacking is only a good idea if parents are taught alternative means of behaviour correction. Otherwise, parenting becomes even more difficult.
Kevin, UK

If a parent can be taken to court if they smack a child, can a child be taken to court if they kick, bite, hit or abuse their parents?
Caron, UK

I know first-hand that child abuse is very real. A law that makes hitting punishable would send a strong message to parents to try other ways to discipline. I have two children and think perhaps government funded education of some sort would help parents combat any anger-management issues they may have and learn a better way to discipline.
Lisa, USA

Those times have been rare but appropriate

K. Jones, USA
I have raised one child and am in the process of raising three more. I have, on occasion swatted all of them. Those times have been rare but appropriate. They are all great kids and I don't believe our relationships could be better. I am glad most of your readers have enough common sense to know the difference between discipline and abuse.
K. Jones, USA

I personally believe there are many ways to punish a child that don't involve physical violence. Violence of any form has no place in a modern society.
Alex White, UK

Nobody is in favour of abusing children in any way - but a smack isn't abuse. Raising doubts about the legality of a wee smack is going to bring nightmarish problems. Children need protection and parents need support. This proposal, if it comes to law, will bring in far more problems then it solves, and we'll regret it. It's one of those over-simple "it feels right so let's do it" ideas.
Tim, Scotland

For a long time here in Sweden smacking has been equal to assault. The kids who get smacked can call a help-line to talk about their problems.
Richard, Sweden

Whenever I smacked my child it always came from any frustration I was then going through. I would regret it later, but always think of the maxim "spare the rod and spoil the child". Given our children's lax attitude to life today, would not some discipline help tomorrow's grown-up?
Athena, Malta

Not good but not criminal

Janice, England

Making criminals of parents who smack is not they way forward. Heaven help the social work profession (to which I belong) and the police child protection teams if we have to treat all parents who smack as criminals. Smacking is not the best way to provide good discipline - but many normal parents (including me) have smacked their children at times. Not good but not criminal.
Janice, England

If smacking is banned it should also be acceptable for anyone who becomes a victim of out-of-control children to sue the government department who implement the ban.
Ben Jacobs, UK

I feel smacking can be very effective. Just the other day, a gentleman cut me off while I was driving. Well, I chased him down and as soon as he got out of his car, I put him over my knee and gave him a couple of good smacks on the bottom. That'll be the last time he cuts another driver off.
Chris Daniel, US

I think there is nothing wrong with smacking a child, as long as it is within limits. My dad used to smack me for justified reasons and I think it made me a better person.
Zeryab, Canada

Some parents can't tell the difference between smacking and beating, so I say ban all physical violence against children. What are we, a nation of child abusers?
Nesta, Scotland

As far as she is concerned being sent to her room is far worse a punishment than being smacked

Stephen, Scotland
Before I was a father I thought that smacking a child was necessary. Now I have a 7-year-old daughter and have found, over time, that smacking does not work. As far as she is concerned being sent to her room is far worse a punishment than being smacked. The time alone in her room makes her think about what she has done, something a smack would not get her to do.
Stephen, Scotland

The new law is a waste of time and money. How do you expect to enforce such a law. There are bigger issues in Scotland, and the world today that need our immediate attention. I have two boys below the age of three, and occasionally they get a smack on the wrist or legs. It seems the people making these latest proposals could do with some of the same.
Stuart Dawson, Welshman living in Hong Kong

There's a world of difference between beating a child and an occasional smack. I believe that smacking should only be used when reasoned argument has been tried and failed, but children are not always reasonable, and a short sharp shock is often the best way to bring a child out of a tantrum. I always felt that smacking was a much more effective punishment than, say depriving a child of a meal as some of my anti-smacking neighbours did. No amount of reasoning will teach a small child not to touch something that is hot, and a smack hurts less than a burn.
Nicola, UK

Political correctness has taken over the asylum

Peter Nixon, USA/UK
Political correctness has taken over the asylum and put the lunatic fringe to the front. Spare the rod and spoil the child was the norm, that did not mean beat them to a pulp, it means simply correction by the last means, all else having failed. Is it any small wonder there are young children and teenagers today who have no sense of values, until caught and hauled to juvenile court, when they plead their age and say they did not know it was wrong? Who is kidding who?
Peter Nixon, USA/UK

Let's get a sense of perspective on this: the occasional smack is not violent, nor is it abuse, nor is it assault. It is an effective way of temporarily correcting a child's behaviour. It has no long-term effects at all. The reason you should be allowed to smack a child but not an adult is because a child is incapable of judging effectively for itself whether or not its behaviour is right or wrong. Yes, children have no 'political power' - quite right too! They don't have the capacity to exercise it intelligently.
Daniel, UK

Violence comes naturally to kids. It is not a learned response. My own son never witnessed violence (we had no TV and there was no family violence) yet he was perfectly capable of it by ten months when he split my lip with a head-butt. He got his first smack after that. (I had planned never to smack him.) While I am sure it is better to model and to teach other ways of solving problems throughout childhood and adolescence, who can reason with a pre-verbal child? A quick smack whenever my son tried something dangerous was the only effective means of communicating that he definitely shouldn't do that. A law like this will not address child abuse, and will make normal parents criminals.
Pam Rosengren, Australia

A child is, like the rest us, constantly learning the limits of tolerance

Chee Choong, Malaysia
A child is, like the rest us, constantly learning the limits of tolerance. More so it is important when he/she has to live in a community of people. Just because one declares an act to be unacceptable does not necessarily impart a child with the capacity nor the inclination to realise it. So it is as a last and effective resort that corrective action (such as smacking or the promise of the use of it) which is instinctively understood even by a child, be delivered. Used in a controlled and directed manner, there's no reason why smacking should not be part of a parent's educational tool for his/her child's healthy and balanced upbringing.
Chee Choong, Malaysia

As I understand it, smacking is not a "violent act", neither is it to be used when running out of patience. I think it is one effective way of disciplining children, especially when they cannot understand reason. I think smacking is effective not because it inflicts pain (surely no-one can advocate beating children), but because it is humbling and a strong signal that certain behaviour is unacceptable. When I was smacked as a child I felt ashamed, and I have nothing but love and respect for my parents now.
Victor, UK

The hysteria concerning child abuse is still raging and moving to ridiculous levels. Whatever next? Will punishing a child by not letting them out during the evening be classed as unlawful imprisonment? Parents need the freedom to punish their children in a way they see fit. Some children don't respond to reasonable discussion and physical punishment is sometimes the only sensible option. We need to pass on a clear message to children that they need to conform to rules otherwise suffer the consequences. If we fail to do so then crime will naturally increase as a consequence.
Steve, UK

The discipline of children by smacking has helped to create the ordered society we have today

Kevin Millican, England
The discipline of children by smacking - for hundreds of generations and thousands of years - has helped to create the ordered society we have today. Over the past 30-40 years in the West, we've seen a marked reduction in the physical discipline of children as a result of so-called 'expert' advice. This should be more than enough time to see if reducing/eliminating smacking leads to a less violent world. Is this what we see? - I think not.
Kevin Millican, England

Political correctness has taken over the asylum and put the lunatic fringe to the front. Spare the rod and spoil the child was the norm, that did not mean beat them to a pulp, it means simply correction by the last means, all else having failed. Is it any small wonder there are young children and teenagers today who have no sense of values, until caught and hauled to juvenile court, when they plead their age and say they did not know it was wrong? Who is kidding who?
Peter Nixon, USA/UK

I cannot see how this ban on smacking would be policed

Paul J, UK
I cannot see how this ban on smacking would be policed. If it serves only to create a yardstick by which courts make judgements, then the "red tape" argument banded about by the Scottish Conservatives is misplaced. Surely this will remove an element of the subjective nature from such decisions and give a fairer result.
Paul J, UK

Of course the ban is right, and should be in place for all children, not just the under threes. If society thinks that teaching a child that a violent act is the way to solve a problem, then society is crazy. Aside from this, the pain inflicted is sickening. Parents who physically strike or harm any child should be charged with child abuse.
Rodd Garr, USA

I don't support violence against children, but a smacked bottom didn't do me any harm, and it didn't do my children any harm. It wasn't intended as a violent act, but as a firm signal that some lines must not be crossed. Children NEED lines to be drawn, and they can't always be drawn by discussion.
John, Scotland

I am totally baffled as to how these ridiculous proposals actually get taken seriously. The idea that legislation like this will actually work is ludicrous. Once again the do-gooders manage to influence politicians. When will the politicians realise that standing up against nonsense like this will actually win votes. We, the general public, have finally had enough of politically correct twaddle
Andy Bell, UK

The occasional smack is not child abuse

Richard, Australia
Anybody with young children knows that it is in a child's nature to push parents to establish what they can get away with and what they cannot. The occasional smack is not child abuse (a thoroughly repugnant accusation), it is a means of establishing these boundaries. I am not saying that everybody should smack their children - far from it - but undisciplined children eventually become somebody else's problem too - their school's - and these days, teachers are so limited in their powers to discipline pupils.
Richard, Australia

In response to Claire's comments; To say that there is so much violence in the world because of smacking is more than a little simplistic, and to say that smacking takes place because children "have no political power" is nothing short of absurd. Perhaps she could explain how a child who is prone to temper tantrums and will not listen to reason could be afforded a degree of political power? Does she seriously think that the misbehaving child who gets a smack will extract from this the sweeping principle that "violence is a good way to solve problems" and carry this principle into action on a grand scale in their own lives?
Christopher Kelly, UK

Future generations will be better off if they learn to manage the behaviour of their children without resorting to physically beating them. The love and comfort we bring to our children is seriously compromised when we start smacking.
It is quite understandable that people in charge of young children feel the overwhelming urge to clout a child who is trying their patience.
But if we accept the principle that this represents a failure not a solution, then in the end the whole of society would benefit from a growing generation who have been brought up in an atmosphere of non-violence.
Philip S Hall, England, UK

The only person qualified to smack under 3 year-olds is the midwife.
Jan, UK

Smacking a child is not a means to wilfully or maliciously inflicting harm on them. Most times it's the last course of action taken to making them know that what they are doing is wrong and it should be stop immediately.
For most parents in the UK, I'm sure that smacking is a necessary and vital part of bringing your child in the way they should grow. I was smacked, many times, and hold no animosity towards my parents.
Vere, England

A well-deserved smack followed by an explanation and a hug is still the best parental guidance in the world. The inability to differentiate between discipline and child abuse is typical of an out-of-touch bureaucracy.
Robert del Valle, USA

This society says we have freedom, but it constantly tells us what do, how to bring our children up, what we wear, how we are to worship, how we are to dress and eat. They say smacking is against the human rights of a child, but I say smacking gives the child boundaries.
You cannot discipline a child with hugs and kisses, you have to use force once in a while. If children are not disciplined then we will bringing up children that will have no respect for themselves or any one else.
Darren Sharrocks,

Reading the responses of people here, it is no wonder that there is so much violence in the world. When people smack their children, they teach them that violence is a good way to solve problems.
The hypocrisy is also astonishing. If a person "smacks" a stranger, he can be arrested for assault. Yet, he is allowed to hit his child. Why? Because children have no political power. This is undoubtedly one of society's worse evils.
Claire, USA

See also:

06 Sep 01 | Scotland
Parents face new smacking ban
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