Parents' right to smack defended

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The Independent Online
Parents should keep the right to administer "reasonable chastisement" of their children, the Government will argue before the European Commission of Human Rights on Monday. United Kingdom law should remain unchanged, it will argue, despite a series of court rulings that have sanctioned severe beatings, often involving the use of implements.

An application to the Commission in Strasbourg is being brought after a man was acquit- ted of assaulting his stepson. The boy, now 11, and his natural father are complaining that the punishment amounted to inhuman and degrading treatment, which is outlawed by article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and that the state failed to secure protection of the boy's rights under the provision. He had been repeatedly caned between the ages of five and eight.

More than 60 children's and health organisations, including the National Children's Bureau, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children, the British Paediatric Association and the National Childminding Association, have called for smacking, and allforms of physical punishment of children, to be outlawed.

In a case that emerged this week, a father was arrested and charged with slapping his 12-year-old son and was later bound over to keep the peace.

But far from outlawing smacking, UK law has proved it is prepared to countenance far more severe punishments. The 1933 Children and Young Persons Act allows parents and other carers to administer corporal punishment, leaving it to the courts to decide what amounts to "reasonable" chastisement. In a series of cases, parents who beat their children with canes, electric flex, belts, whips and riding crops have been acquitted of assault or cruelty charges. Examples include a father who admitted taking down his teenage son's trousers and repeatedly hitting him with a belt, breaking his skin and causing bruising. He was acquitted by Cambridge magistrates.

The Government will argue that the 1933 law should remain in force and that the boy and his father have failed to exhaust UK legal remedies by failing to take out a civil action for assault against the stepfather.

If the application is declared "admissible" it is likely to be referred for a full hearing by the European Court of Human Rights. If found to have breached the convention, the Government would be obliged, eventually, to change the law.