Experts urge ban on smacking children

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The Independent Online

Leading childcare experts and lawyers have called for a national strategy to tackle violence by and against children, including a ban on smacking, the abolition of boxing and rigorous policies on bullying.

Violent tendencies begin in childhood and are made worse by the "macho male attitudes" in society, said the Commission on Children and Violence, which was set up in the wake of the shocking murder of toddler James Bulger by two 11-year-old boys in 1993.

But for those who fear that children are becoming more aggressive, the Commission concludes that children are far more often the victims of violence than the perpetrators.

Babies under a year old are four times as likely as any other group to be murder victims. One in seven 11-year-olds reported being bullied at school "often" or "quite often". And one third of 12 to 15-year-olds reported assaults outside their homes, by adults or children. One in six children still experiences severe violent punishment and many are beaten with belts and canes.

The Commission, which heard from 400 organisations and 500 children, says such "negative, violent and humiliating forms of discipline" should be banned, as these become "significant in the development of violent attitudes and actions from a very early age".

Other recommendationsmade by the commission include the abolition of boxing and any other activities where causing injury to an opponent is the aim; taxing alcohol more harshly to provide a real disincentive for children; a review on laws concerning the possession and use of airguns by children; a rigorous observation of the evening watershed on television and the creation of a Children's Rights Commissioner.

"We are faced with the choice. If we don't take specific action now ... things will go down the American path to high levels of inter-personal violence," said Peter Newell of the organisation End Physical Punishment of Children (Epoch).

And Sir William Utting, chairman of the commission, added: "We must develop a culture which disapproves of all forms of violence to children ... All the lessons of my working life point to the fact that violence breeds misery; it does not resolve it."

The law should be changed to outlaw physical punishment, he said, and there should be a formal commitment to non- violence, central and local co-ordination of a UK-wide strategy against violence and a checklist for working towards a non-violent society.

Allan Levy QC, a leading child law barrister, added: "We know it's not going to be easy but we are really trying to get from the highest level of government right down to parents being aware and trying to take measures to cut out violence."

The report said that "the most potent of the risk factors" for children becoming violent "are clearly sited in childhood and within the family ... The best predictor of violence in adulthood is violent behaviour in childhood".

Although family break-up can have an effect it is only "indirect", while social deprivation can also play a part, as can prejudice, discrimination and alcohol, or other substance abuse.

The report warns that there is still an ambivalent attitude towards violence in Britain, with physical punishment and deliberate humiliation remaining "common and legally and socially acceptable".

Violent images in sport and on television must also play a part "which some commercial interests do not hesitate to feed and exploit".

The connection between mental illness and violence is also complex, with between 5 and 10 per cent of adults and children involved in serious acts of violence classified as showing some form of mental disorder.