How one 12-year-old boy could end every parent's right to smack

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A 12-year-old boy, beaten by his stepfather with a cane after he tried to stab another child with a kitchen knife, will today take his case to the European Court of Human Rights aiming to end his parents' right to use corporal punishment against him. If he is successful, smacking could be outlawed in Britain, bringing it in line with other European countries.

The boy, who cannot be identified for legal reasons, is receiving the full backing of his natural father, with whom he now lives.

Last night the boy's 34-year-old mother defended the right to punish her son. She said she was "astounded" that the matter had reached the European courts. Describing her son as being "totally out of control" and as having "run riot" since the age of two, she recalled the incident three years ago in which the boy tried to stab another child and had been beaten by his stepfather. The man was later acquitted in a British court of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

At two years old, she said, he would climb out of his cot and try to "wreck the house. If he had toys he would break them". His disruptive behaviour continued at school, despite solutions suggested by social services and child and educational psychologists. The mother suggested that part of the problem was that "youngsters today are not properly disciplined". She said that much as she loved her son, "there is no way I can have him living with me again. He is too disruptive, there is nothing I can do with him any more".

Although the mother and son now live apart, they had remained in contact, and had holidayed together. The potential friction of a high-profile international court hearing would, she said, "put the chances of a reconciliation out of the question".

In the European court it is understood that the lawyers acting for the boy will submit that the British government failed to protect the child's human rights. Today's hearing is the first stage in the European legal process. The case will be initially reviewed by the European Commission of Human Rights which will decide whether there is a primary case to be considered by the European Court of Human Rights.

Recently the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child stated it was "deeply worried" that courts in the United Kingdom allowed parents to inflict "reasonable chastisement". More than 60 UK organisations support calls to outlaw the use of corporal punishment.

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