Smack addicts

Europe has ruled against parents' right to smack, yet the Government refuses to outlaw physical punishment. Where do we go from here?

Last November, a young English boy protested to the highest court in the land that his stepfather had no right to cane him. During his trial, it was noted that the beatings had been frequent and "hurt a lot, particularly when he was beaten on the legs". He was severely bruised and had several linear scars. He was repeatedly beaten between the ages of five and eight. As expected, this week the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg found in his favour.

The problem for British parents is: what happens next? One of the most perplexed appears to be Paul Boateng, father-of-five and Parliamentary Under-Secretary to the Ministry of Health. He gave an undertaking last March that the Government would adopt the European Court ruling as final. He promised that our domestic law would be brought in to line with the general trend where at least eight other European countries, including Austria and most of Scandinavia, have already outlawed the corporal punishment of children. Since July, such punishment has also been banned in British schools by the School Standards and Framework Act.

You might think that today, Mr Boateng would proudly be announcing the death by law of ALL violent parental chastisement in Britain. A recent pamphlet from Boateng's own department had said: "It's never OK to shake or smack a baby." Of course, you'd be wrong. With William Hague and the Tories screaming about Euro interference, what you actually find is Mr Boateng's department defending a parent's right to smack to their heart's content, just so long as they don't use an "implement". We are told that "smacking has a place within parental discipline and our law will not be changed to outlaw smacking".

This is totally confusing for the rest of us, both parents and children alike. It was hoped that the ruling would mark a change in the culture of British childcare which, at present, by the Government's own research, results in a fifth of children under 16 being hit with implements and three quarters of babies being smacked in the first year of life. What Mr Boateng has now done is the equivalent of introducing a drink-drive law which says it's all right to drive a car so long as you're only two- thirds tipsy. On the one hand, Mr Boateng is telling parents that you may smack as hard as you want. On the other, he's saying that, if like the father of Dennis the Menace, you take a slipper to your son's backside, you may be prosecuted for assault.

I understand that frustrated parents sometimes lose their rag. I've done it. My teachers did the same. But we know that hitting children only causes resentment and inculcates a philosophy that "might is right". Hitting your child is only justifiable on the basis that it was a mistake in the first place and that you make amends afterwards. You try to learn from your mistakes. Yet here's the Government giving the oxygen of approval to our worst instincts.

This is all the more serious because a concerted family values campaign already exists to promote parental violence which may become abusive. Perhaps you're prepared to overlook the odd smacking of a 10-year-old by frustrated parents. It gets more difficult when you see the colour photographs of the bruises and broken skin. But what should the Government do about those who advocate the beating of babies?

Earlier this month, self-styled parenting gurus, Gary and Anne-Marie Ezzo, flew into Britain from California to preach their gospel of childcare. Since the mid-1990s, they claim to have "educated" more than 1.5 million parents worldwide. In America, they run a profitable business called "Growing Families International". They present a radio show and peddle a 17-cassette audio-pack. But their special message for parents boils down to: they want you to beat your kids, even babies as young as 14 months and children up to 40 months, with a ritual rod or "implement".

Like Jesuits, the Ezzos favour early propaganda. They believe that "hitting 'em while still young" is the only way to instill "lifetime obedience". Parents are even told they can expect "first-time compliance" to their orders. This means that if you command your two-year-old to stop playing in the cupboard and he says "I haven't finished yet", you march him upstairs for a beating.

Gary and Anne-Marie explain that smacking by hand is unsuccessful because it lacks sufficient "sting". You have to use an "instrument". "Don't use a wooden spoon," they say. "It doesn't have enough `flex'. You need an instrument that has `flex'. The goal is to produce a high sting. The tissue must absorb the impact. Only this produces the type of pain that re-directs the child's attention." Then the loving personal touch: "In our household, we use a piece of vinyl leather 10-12 inches long, an inch- and-a-half wide and a quarter-inch thick. This produces a sting but doesn't cause damage."

Avoiding damage is a high priority for Gary and Anne-Marie. "If the instrument is too heavy, it will leave marks; if it's too light, it will be meaningless." In case of doubt, they say, "anything that cuts the skin is too heavy". They make a light-hearted reference to nobody wanting the social services getting involved.

In classic cases of abuse, the violator always seeks to isolate the victim. The idea is to rule out witnesses. By an insidious parallel, this is exactly what the Ezzos do. While claiming to be protectors, they advise: "Don't beat in front of other adults. Don't beat in front of other children. If Gran and Grandma come over, don't do it in front of them. Rarely do it in front of other siblings. And don't do it on bare skin." But what if it's a baby? "With a toddler in a diaper you may have to pull off the diaper and hit just below the diaper line." Or if it's a well-covered girl? "Suppose there's a corduroy skirt that you can't get through, then you may have to drop that down a little bit too."

Anne-Marie even describes her favourite method of pinning down a child (a difficult phrase in Britain after the Beck scandal) while delivering chastisement. "To keep your kids still, cross your ankles then put their little legs between your legs and that way you won't miss. Then take their little hands and hold them out here - I'm talking one, two- and three- year-olds - then their little bottoms are right there and you won't miss".

You don't have to be Freud to see that these people are seriously deluded. When they claim that beating a child for them is an "act of love", you wonder what they mean. Self-righteous relish drips from their spanking descriptions. In classic abuse, the truth does a headstand. Confront a paedophile and he'll say "kids like being touched up". How bizarre to find the Ezzo's using a similar construction.

The dangers are clear-cut. We do not live in a society where parents are always right. We live in a society where children need to think for themselves. We need to live in a society where children are free to grow without emotional and physical abuse - not to mention the risk of being turned into adults who will probably take sexual pleasure from pain. There is research showing that spanking by parents causes anti-social behaviour in children. It's not enough that Mr Boateng sits on the fence to defend the old brutal culture. He has an opportunity to think again and improve the culture. With the new ruling from Strasbourg, the Home Office should not only prosecute abusive parents but also deport their vile mentors.

Phillip Hodson is a fellow of the British Association for Counselling

Arts and Entertainment
On The Apprentice, “serious” left the room many moons ago and yet still we watch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from David Ayer's 'Fury'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift performs at the 2014 iHeart Radio Music Festival
music review
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Anderson plays Arthur Shelby in Peaky Blinders series two
tvReview: Arthur Shelby Jr seems to be losing his mind as his younger brother lets him run riot in London
Arts and Entertainment
Miranda Hart has called time on her award-winning BBC sitcom, Miranda
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Boy George performing with Culture Club at Heaven

musicReview: Culture Club performs live for first time in 12 years

Arts and Entertainment
Laura Wood, winner of the Montegrappa Scholastic Prize for New Children’s Writing
books

Children's bookseller wins The Independent's new author search

Arts and Entertainment
Pulling the strings: Spira Mirabilis

music
Arts and Entertainment
Neville's Island at Duke of York's theatre
musicReview: The production has been cleverly cast with a quartet of comic performers best known for the work on television
Arts and Entertainment
Banksy's 'The Girl with the Pierced Eardrum' in Bristol

art
Arts and Entertainment
Lynda Bellingham stars in her last Oxo advert with on-screen husband Michael Redfern

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Tim Minchin portrait
For a no-holds-barred performer who is scathing about woolly thinking and oppressive religiosity, Tim Minchin is surprisingly gentle
Arts and Entertainment
Clara takes the lead in 'Flatline' while the Doctor remains in the Tardis
tvReview: The 'Impossible Girl' earns some companion stripes... but she’s still annoying in 'Dr Who, Flatline'
Arts and Entertainment
Joy Division photographed around Waterloo Road, Stockport, near Strawberry Studios. The band are Bernard Sumner (guitar and keyboards), Stephen Morris (drums and percussion), Ian Curtis (vocals and occasional guitar), Peter Hook (bass guitar and backing vocals).
books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Harris in 'The Goob' film photocall, at the Venice International Film Festival 2014
filmThe Bafta-winner talks Hollywood, being branded a psycho, and how Streisand is his true inspiration
Arts and Entertainment
X Factor contestant Fleur East
tvReview: Some lacklustre performances - but the usual frontrunners continue to excel
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Tuttle's installation in the Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern
artAs two major London galleries put textiles in the spotlight, the poor relation of the creative world is getting recognition it deserves
Arts and Entertainment
Hunger Games actress Jena Malone has been rumoured to be playing a female Robin in Batman v Superman
film
Arts and Entertainment
On top of the world: Actress Cate Blanchett and author Richard Flanagan
artsRichard Flanagan's Man Booker win has put paid to the myth that antipodean artists lack culture
Arts and Entertainment
The Everyman, revamped by Haworth Tompkins
architectureIt beats strong shortlist that included the Shard, the Library of Birmingham, and the London Aquatics Centre
Arts and Entertainment
Justice is served: Robert Downey Jr, Vincent D’Onofrio, Jeremy Strong and Robert Duvall in ‘The Judge’

Film

Arts and Entertainment
Clive Owen (centre) in 'The Knick'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
J.K. Simmons , left, and Miles Teller in a scene from

Film

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

    Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

    Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

    Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

    The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

    Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
    Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

    Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

    The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
    DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

    Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

    Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
    The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

    Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

    The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

    Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

    The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    11 best sonic skincare brushes

    Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
    Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

    Paul Scholes column

    I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

    While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
    Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

    Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

    A crime that reveals London's dark heart

    How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
    Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

    Lost in translation: Western monikers

    Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
    Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

    Handy hacks that make life easier

    New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
    KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

    KidZania: It's a small world

    The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker