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
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
Arts and Entertainment
TV
News
Graham Norton said Irish broadcaster RTE’s decision to settle was ‘moronic’
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Attenborough with the primates
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Former Communards frontman Jimmy Somerville
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Secrets of JK Rowling's Harry Potter workings have been revealed in a new bibliography
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Fearne Cotton is leaving Radio 1 after a decade
radio The popular DJ is leaving for 'family and new adventures'
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
Public Service Broadcasting are going it alone
music
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne as transgender artist Lili Elbe in The Danish Girl
filmFirst look at Oscar winner as transgender artist
Arts and Entertainment
Season three of 'House of Cards' will be returning later this month
TV reviewHouse of Cards returns to Netflix
Arts and Entertainment
Harrison Ford will play Rick Deckard once again for the Blade Runner sequel
film review
Arts and Entertainment
The modern Thunderbirds: L-R, Scott, Virgil, Alan, Gordon and John in front of their home, the exotic Tracy Island
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
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.

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot