No, you can't justify hitting a child on the grounds of ‘cultural context’

To allow an Indian child to be hit because he is Indian is not accepting of different cultures. It is double standards

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Cultural assimilation. We don’t hear much about it any more, because it has become something of a dated, even dirty word, uneasily associated with Norman Tebbit’s famous cricket test as a barometer of whether you were “British” enough to be allowed to live in this country.

It’s still going strong in France, of course. If you live in France, or one of its many overseas departments, you have to behave as a Frenchman, or woman. Or child. You must speak French in the playground, sing the national anthem and accept your ancestors were Gauls. And you can’t wear the veil.

Over here, this sort of thinking is seen at best as a bit suspect and at worst as downright racist. We pride ourselves on our tolerant, multicultural society in which local customs are appreciated. We welcome the world’s communities here, don’t we? Even if some local habits contradict what we consider not just decent, but legal. Such as hitting a child.

This is the astonishing ruling from Mrs Justice Pauffley, a High Court judge, who has urged that “cultural context” must be taken into account when considering behaviour by new migrants to the UK. Her remarks refer to a case in which a man, who had recently arrived from India with his wife and child, was arrested on suspicion of assault.

His wife claimed she had been attacked. His seven-year-old son told investigators his father had hit him on his back and leg. Not at all, said the dad. However he did admit to the habit of punishing his son from time to time with “a slap or a tap”. Mrs Justice Pauffley said this was alright, in her view, as “within many communities newly arrived in this country, children are slapped and hit for misbehaviour... proper allowance must be made for what is, almost certainly, a different cultural context”.

What weasel words, and what a dangerous precedent this will set. Under the shameful excuse of “cultural context”, one can do all sorts of things. Take female genital mutilation. In a “cultural context”, other societies do it, so should we turn a blind eye to women turning up at hospital having had their clitorises cut off and their vaginas sewn up? Take female illiteracy. Millions of girls are regularly withheld from school across the world, so if they come to live in the UK, we should we ignore such practices here? Is “cultural context” really more important than health, education and the right to live without being hit by your parent?

I live a hundred yards from a street on which there are Ethiopian, Polish, Georgian, Chinese and Turkish speciality shops. My children are all at schools with a huge cultural mix; my youngest son’s best friend is Kosovan. By and large, Britain is rightfully heralded as a place of cultural tolerance and acceptance, but using that to turn a blind eye to the hitting of a child is wrong. We have cultural contexts too, you know.  It is not acceptable in the UK to hit a child. Ever. By anyone. Slapping or ‘tapping’ may be legal, but it is not right. Times have moved on, and everyone knows it.


To allow an Indian child to be hit because he is Indian is not accepting of different cultures. It is double standards, and it is shameful. Being struck with is an outrage no matter what culture you come from. It is a medieval punishment and, just because it might happen in India, doesn’t make it acceptable.

Every detail of this case is heartbreaking. When asked how he felt when he was beaten, this small boy said “I feel sad... but I am brave.” Using the spurious notion of  “cultural context”, because, well, in India, things are different there and children are beaten all the time, makes a mockery of the very notion of legal protection for children and tinges the entire judgement with hideously racist overtones. If Mrs Justice Pauffley’s views were logically followed – I pray they are not – we will start having protection only for those born and bred in the UK, where a “cultural context” does not include being hit by your parent.

I am afraid the whole case reminds me too much of Victoria Climbie, a child whose fear and timidness in the presence of her future murderers was idiotically put down to some sort of notion of “parental respect” ingrained in African children. And the horror of Rotherham, in which “cultural context” was used as an explanation as to why male gangs of abusers were not properly investigated, charged and imprisoned for their horrendous treatment of vulnerable girls.

Believe me, I am as supportive of different cultures as the next person. But not when they fly in the face of a small child being hit.