It's been a bad day, the children have been hell, then they really start misbehaving. Are you right to smack them?

International conference says even a cuff should be outlawed
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The Independent Online
Campaigners from 25 countries yesterday called for a change in the law to make the smacking of children as unacceptable as wife beating.

The International Conference on the Ending of Physical Punishment of Children in Dublin wants slapping children to be made illegal by 2000.

"The basic target is to change attitudes and make it quite clear that it is no more acceptable to hit a child than it is to hit your friends or your wife, or anyone else," conference co- ordinator, Peter Newall, said.

But he stressed that the purpose of a law making smacking of children illegal was "wholly educational" and aimed at changing attitudes rather than putting parents in the dock.

He told BBC Radio 4 that this did not mean punishing more parents. "There are now six or possibly seven countries in Europe that have taken this step ... The result has not been any increase in prosecutions of parents. Far from it. By changing attitudes towards children it actually reduces the need for formal interventions."

The issue of smacking is a contentious one. Earlier this year the Labour leader, Tony Blair, reignited the debate when he admitted he had occasionally taken a hand to his children.

"I always regretted it because there are lots of ways of disciplining a child, and I don't believe that belting them is the best one," Mr Blair said at the time. But he added: "There is a clear dividing line between administering discipline on the one hand and violence on the other, which most parents understand perfectly well."

Last November, leading childcare experts and lawyers called for a national strategy to tackle violence by and against children, including a smacking ban.

The Commission on Children and Violence, which was set up in the wake of the murder of James Bulger in 1993 by two 11-year-old boys, concluded that violent tendencies begin in childhood. It found that one in six children still experiences violent punishment and many are beaten with belts and canes.

The commission, which heard from 400 organisations and 500 children, said 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".

This was reiterated yesterday by the charity Childline, which said that it recommended other ways, such as the implementation of sanctions, to discourage bad behaviour.

"We don't think smacking is a good idea. What we find from what children tell us is that parents ... when they're under stress, can find themselves becoming rather more violent," a spokeswoman, Wendy Toms, said. "We hear terrible, terrible incidents described to us by children of smacking that escalates."

She said the charity was not joining the call for smacking to be made illegal, which it did not believe was practicable. "But we do think there should be a ban on people other than parents smacking children - it's not appropriate for others, such as childminders," she added.