Letter: A smack in time...

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Sir: In delivering its judgment in the case of the boy who was repeatedly punished by his step-father with a cane, the European Court of Human Rights was careful to emphasise that its examination was "limited to the specific facts of the case before it". It is therefore incorrect to state that "Europe has ruled against parents' right to smack" ("Smack addicts", 25 September). "Smacking" lay completely outside the consideration of the court.

The ECHR has consistently ruled that a "particular level of severity" must be reached in order for a punishment to be in breach of the European Convention on Human Rights. In Costello-Roberts v UK (1993), the court declared that "factors such as the nature and context of the punishment, the manner and method of its execution, its duration, its physical and mental effects and, in some instances, the sex, age and state of health" of the child must be taken into account.

Philip Hodson's article rests on the assumption that parents only smack children when they "lose their rag". This is not the case. A well-timed smack is one given in a controlled way, to a reasonable extent, with the good of the child at heart. Such an approach to discipline, accompanied by an explanation and in the context of a warm parent-child relationship, has a positive effect.

Legislation against the physical correction of children would serve only to increase the incidence of child abuse. If parents are robbed of what is often the most effective way of dealing promptly with misbehaviour, there is more scope for problems to escalate, and the risk of violence and abuse becomes very real.

NORMAN WELLS

Families for Discipline

Frinton-on-Sea, Essex

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