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Friday, 4 October, 2002, 15:54 GMT 16:54 UK
UK urged to ban child smacking
Young children
Report expresses concern on a number of child issues
The United Nations has urged the British Government to change the law which allows parents to smack their children.

The UK signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 11 years ago, but according to a report published on Friday it is failing to meet its obligations.

The document, written by the UN Committee on The Rights of The Child, says there is "deep regret" that the UK retained the defence of "reasonable chastisement" despite the recommendations made seven years ago.


The government is proud of its record of achievement for UK children

John Denham, minister for young people
And it goes on to express serious concerns on issues ranging from high levels of violence against children to the teenage pregnancy rate.

But John Denham, minister for young people, disagreed with the report's recommendation of a total ban on corporal punishment within the family.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today Programme a "mild smack" was a perfectly "reasonable" response from parents - although he would like to see the extent of smacking reduced.

He added: "We are working with parents to support good parenting, to show what the options are - the different ways of disciplining a child other than smacking.

"That will have a much bigger long-term effect than the rather narrow lawyers' debate about the state of the law on smacking in this country."

Mr Denham said the government was "proud" of its record of achievement for UK children.

The UN's main areas of concern with the UK:
Smacking
High teenage pregnancy rate
The low age of criminal responsibility
Mental health problems among children
High suicide rates

He said there were 1.4 million fewer children living in poverty now than in 1996/ 97, teenage pregnancy was down and there were more teenage mothers in education and training or work.

NSPCC ambassador Lady Walmsley, however, said a change in the UK law would have sent a message that hitting children does not work.

"It is a lesson in bad behaviour, ineffective as a means of discipline," she told BBC News.

Every one of the very large number of child deaths caused by violence and neglect in the UK starts with a smack, according to Lady Walmsley.

She said the 10 countries where it was illegal to hit children had seen a considerable reduction in child abuse.

Young offenders

Another major area of concern in the report is Britain's low age of criminal responsibility.

The child rights convention says youngsters should be put in custody only as a last resort and for the shortest possible period.


As usual the common sense variety of parenting is going to be held hostage to the abusers
Susan, UK

To read more of your comments, click here

But since it was ratified by the UK in 1991, the number of children locked up in young offenders' institutions has almost doubled.

Many other European countries do not treat law-breaking children as criminals until they are aged 13.

In Scotland the age of criminal responsibility is eight. In England and Wales it is 10.

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

Praise

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.

But 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.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
The BBC's Niall Dickson
"Campaigners say it could help prevent child cruelty"
James Westhead examines the report's other findings
"We have the worst record on locking up children"
Barnardos' Pam Hibbert
"We want children to have the same defence as adults"

Talking PointTALKING POINT
Heavy-handed?
Should a ban on smacking be imposed?
See also:

04 Oct 02 | Politics
10 Jun 02 | Politics
07 Mar 02 | N Ireland
28 Nov 01 | Europe
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