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Welsh parents could be banned from smacking their children

England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland could follow the country's lead and instigate a Britain-wide ban if the new law is a success

Charlotte England
Thursday 05 January 2017 14:44 GMT
Welsh leaders are looking to change the law over smacking (posed image)
Welsh leaders are looking to change the law over smacking (posed image) (iStock)

Wales is considering banning parents from smacking their children, after it was announced Welsh leaders will be handed new powers allowing them to make changes to parental law.

If politicians go ahead with the ban, which could come into force later this year, it will be the first time the practice has ever been made illegal in Great Britain.

Labour First Minister Carwyn Jones indicated last summer that he intended to outlaw smacking, but new powers introduced as part of a devolution bill are expected to make it possible for him to do so for the first time.

The Wales Bill is currently going through parliament, and includes a special amendment to give the Welsh Assembly the power to legislate on "parental discipline".

This will make it possible for the country to strip away longstanding legal defences for parents who use corporal punishment to discipline children.

Without the amendment, the Bill would reserve the right to make law on parenting and parental responsibilities to Westminster.

The assembly is expected to produce a consultation paper this summer, to be followed by legislation in the autumn of 2017.

The ban would affect millions of tourists and visitors from England and the rest of the world who work or holiday in the country.

It could also provide a testing ground for anti-smacking laws that could follow in England and Scotland.

The move follows decades of controversy over smacking, which has been condemned by lobby groups, UN officials, and the Children’s Commissioners for England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

At the start of January, France became the 52nd country in the world to ban smacking, despite the vast majority of French people saying they were in favour of occasional corporal punishment for disobedient children.

The move left Britain as one of only four countries in Europe where smacking remains a legal way for parents to discipline their children.

The new Welsh law would dismantle the defence of "reasonable chastisement", which currently gives parents the right to smack their children, for the first time in 150 years.

Tony Blair, under pressure for a ban, altered the law in 2004 so that parents can be taken to court if their smacking inflicts any kind of injury, physical or mental on a child, but there have no prosecutions under the new law.

Welsh Assembly children’s spokesman Carl Sergeant said last year that a new law would follow consultation with "parents and stakeholders" and would not criminalise parents.

In practice, removing the right of "reasonable chastisement", first set out by the courts in 1860, a parent who smacked their child would be vulnerable to charges of common assault, an offence that can bring a six month jail sentence.

Critics said the ban would threaten parents who try to do the best for their children and pave the way for contentious, expensive and time-wasting prosecutions, the Mail online reported.

Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust told the news site: "The Westminster government has been clear that it is opposed to criminalising parents who use a mild smack to discipline their children.

"It therefore seems anomalous for ministers to go out of their way to give the Welsh Assembly the power to do that very thing.

"It is parents, and not national governments, who bear the responsibility for caring for their children, nurturing them, and correcting them where necessary.

"Generations of parents have proved the benefit of the occasional moderate smack to correct their children’s behaviour, and research continues to show its positive effects when used in the context of a loving home where children are respected and cherished."

A spokesman for the Wales Office said: "The Wales Bill that was published last year gives the Welsh Assembly the powers to enforce its own legislation. The amendment tabled for debate next week simply clarifies the power when it comes to parental discipline. It is up to the Welsh Assembly whether it chooses to change the law."

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