Assault law `should protect children' Call to make child smacking `assault'

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The Independent Online

Adult assault laws should be extended to cover children in order to make smacking socially unacceptable, according to the authors of a two-year study into children and violence.

Allan Levy QC, one of the panel responsible for the report, claims that present laws help promote children's suffering rather than deter it.

At the launch of the findings of the commission on children and violence yesterday he called for changes in the law to transform social attitudes on hitting children.

Mr Levy, a barrister specialising in child law, said: "Only `unnecessary' harm to children is outlawed at the moment. This sends out completely the wrong message.

"Some of the laws in this area are at present promoting rather than reducing violence against children. I would support extending assault laws to cover children. It would be very difficult to get a conviction for smacking, but it would send out the right message."

Another member of the commission, Peter Newell, co-ordinator of End Physical Punish- ment of Children (Epoch), added: "The law needs reform with adult assault laws being extended to children.

"But I doubt if anyone would get prosecuted for smacking a child because it would probably be treated like a trivial assault between adults, as now."

The commission wants to give any form of violence against children the same social stigma as drink driving or racism. Sir William Utting, its chairman, said: "Occasionally smacking a child might not do much damage to that child, but it will reinforce the attitudes of other adults who may go much further.

"We are not just talking about smacking but all forms of violence against children. People may say that being smacked as a child didn't harm them, but how do they know? I was smacked as a child - maybe I'd be a nicer person now if I hadn't been."

The commission also called for non-violent behaviour to be actively promoted in schools and other organisations and for a national campaign against bullying to be carried out.

Boxing should also be abolished and a stricter television watershed enforced, according to the report's findings.

The study, commissioned by the Gulbenkian Foundation, concluded that children aremore often victims of violence than perpetrators of it.