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Wednesday, 19 December, 2001, 19:41 GMT
New call for ban on smacking
children's legs
Peers argue that the law sanctions abuse
Charity workers dealing with physically abused children say babies and toddlers in particular would be helped by a change in the law on smacking.

In a survey of 190 social work professionals with the NSPCC, 88% said they had been involved in abuse or neglect case where physical punishment had been a factor.

In the House of Lords on Wednesday, the children's charity's "Parliamentary ambassador", Baroness Walmsley, called on the government to rethink its policy on the issue.

Directors of social services departments also want a ban on children being hit.

Legal licence

In the NSPCC survey, carried out last week, more than three quarters thought a law to protect children from being hit would help their work - rising to more than 90% where babies and toddlers were concerned.

Physical punishment is outlawed already in UK schools, but not in the home - and not for childminders, with parental consent.

The charity said the current law, allowing "reasonable chastisement", indicated to abusive parents that persistent and harsh physical punishment was acceptable.

Its director, Mary Marsh, said: "I am confident that the majority of caring parents will unite with us to support changes to the law, which are not an attack on them but on the significant minority of abusers who use the current law to excuse severe beatings."

Rob Hutchinson of the Association of Directors of Social Services said it would support legislation banning the hitting of children.

It also wanted a government campaign to help parents understand the dangers of physical punishment as well as the benefits of safer, alternative forms of discipline.

'Insulting'

"With so many child tragedies in the news it is now the right time for the government to explicitly say that physical chastisement of children is as unacceptable as the physical chastisement of adults," he said.

"In years to come we are likely to look back and regret that, as a society, we tolerated the hitting of small children by adults."

Baroness Walmsley said: "For the government to present their inaction as 'common sense' is a spin too far and an insult to child protection professionals.

"How can it be common sense to hit a baby? How can it be common sense to beat a child with a stick? How can it be common sense to hit a toddler around the head?

"The law cannot be silent on these things."

She said the Scottish Executive had set a minimum standard with its reform proposals.

'Positive'

The executive wants to stop parents physically disciplining young children under the age of three.

Children are protected by law in Germany, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Norway, Croatia, Cyprus and Israel.

But Norman Wells of Family and Youth Concern argues that many parents use occasional physical correction as a positive disciplinary tool in the context of a warm, caring relationship.

"In many situations it is arguably a more kind and merciful response than other approaches which may be more drawn-out or risk causing emotional damage," he said.

See also:

15 Nov 01 | England
School smacking case thrown out
02 Nov 01 | Education
School says Bible permits smacking
13 Sep 01 | Scotland
Minister defends smacking ban plan
23 Sep 98 | UK
Caning ruled illegal
08 Nov 01 | UK
Head to head: Smacking
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