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

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Chocolat author Joanne Harris has spoken about the financial struggles most authors face

books
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from How To Train Your Dragon 2

Review: Imaginative storytelling returns with vigour

film
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Josh Hutcherson, Donald Sutherland and Jena Malone in Mockinjay: Part 1

film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Characters in the new series are based on real people, say its creators, unlike Arya and Clegane the Dog in ‘Game of Thrones’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
A waxwork of Jane Austen has been unveiled at The Jane Austen Centre in Bath

books
Arts and Entertainment
Britney Spears has been caught singing without Auto-Tune

music
Arts and Entertainment
Unless films such as Guardians of the Galaxy, pictured, can buck the trend, this summer could be the first in 13 years that not a single Hollywood blockbuster takes $300m

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Miley Cyrus has her magic LSD brain stolen in this crazy video produced with The Flaming Lips

music
Arts and Entertainment
Gay icons: Sesame Street's Bert (right) and Ernie

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Singer Robin Thicke and actress Paula Patton

music
Arts and Entertainment
The new film will be shot in the same studios as the Harry Potter films

books
Arts and Entertainment
Duncan Bannatyne left school at 15 and was still penniless at 29

Bannatyne leaves Dragon's Den

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The French economist Thomas Piketty wrote that global inequality has worsened

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant and Benedict Cumberbatch

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck plays a despondent Nick Dunne in David Fincher's 'Gone Girl'

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty (L) and Carl Barât look at the scene as people begin to be crushed

music
Arts and Entertainment

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Caral Barat of The Libertines performs on stage at British Summer Time Festival at Hyde Park

music
Arts and Entertainment
Ariana Grande and Iggy Azalea perform on stage at the Billboard Music Awards 2014

music
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Zina Saro-Wiwa

art
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

    In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
    Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

    A writer spends a night on the streets

    Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
    Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    UK's railways are entering a new golden age

    New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
    Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

    Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

    Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
    Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

    Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

    This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
    Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

    Why did we stop eating whelks?

    Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
    10 best women's sunglasses

    In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

    From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
    Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

    No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

    18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

    A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

    A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

    The German people demand an end to the fighting
    New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

    New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

    For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
    Can scientists save the world's sea life from

    Can scientists save our sea life?

    By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
    Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

    Richard III review

    Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice