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Ban all smacking and raise age of criminality to 12.

Byline: By TRYST WILLIAMS Western Mail

Punishing parents for their children's crimes should be the 'exception rather than the rule', according to a report published yesterday. The study, from the Commission on Families and the Wellbeing of Children, said parents should be banned from smacking their children and the criminal age of responsibility should be increased from 10 to 12.

Peter Clarke, the Children's Commissioner for Wales, welcomed the report's findings.

'I read this with a growing sense of real pleasure because it has re-established something this UK Government has muddied,' he said. 'Children need to be looked at as children first and foremost.'

Mr Clarke contrasted the findings with this week's comments by Crown Court Judge John Curran, who suggested a link between broken homes and youth offending.

And he praised the report for its emphasis on supporting parents rather than simply punishing them when things go wrong.

The law currently states that children under 10 cannot commit crimes because they are considered too young to weigh up what is right and wrong or to deliberately break the law.

But research from the Royal College of Psychiatrists, used by the Commission, has shown that a child's understanding of crime may not be fully developed until they are in their late teens.

Also, child psychiatrist Sir Michael Rutter, who chaired the Commission, said there needed to be a clear distinction between where the child's responsibility ended and the parent's began.

The Commission called for the age of criminal responsibility to be increased to 12 but added that doli incapax - a presumption of innocence - should be re-introduced for youngsters up to the age of 16 to allow for the 'highly variable process of moral development in children'.

The Commission also said parenting orders - which may see parents having conditions imposed on them - should be res- tricted to 'those who have rejected parenting support offered to them on a voluntary basis'.

Recommending a ban on smacking children, Sir Michael said evidence showed it can 'escalate to frank abuse' and the Commission thought it wrong that adults should be protected more than children.

'Why is it all right to beat a child but not to beat another adult?', he said.

Among its other recommendations, the report called for:

Government guidelines on the minimum age at which children are allowed to be left unattended;

Guidelines on the minimum age at which a child can baby-sit;

The Treasury to establish an independent review body to define income standards to ensure a child had an 'adequate standard of living'.

The Commission was established last year by the National Family and Parenting Institute (NFPI) and the NCH children's charity, with funding from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The NSPCC said it 'strongly welcomed' the recommendation that smacking be abolished.

'A child's safety and respect for their human rights should be at the core of caring for children,' a spokeswoman said.

'However, instead of setting a clear standard on this issue, the current law is flawed and confusing, serving neither the interests of the child nor of the parent.

'The NSPCC believes that law reform should be combined with education about positive parenting and alternatives to hitting.'

The charity is calling for widespread parenting programmes.

NSPCC director and chief executive Mary Marsh said, 'The Commission shares the position of the United Nations, hundreds of professional organisations, the Parliamentary joint committee on human rights and 72 MPs in backing a ban on hitting children.

'It is time to push forward for complete reform of this unjust law and give children the respect and protection they deserve - their right to the same protection from assault as adults.': 10 key recommendations:1. An end to smacking - by scrapping the 'reasonable chastisement' defence that allows parents to physically punish their children. 2. Raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 12. 3. A legal age at which children are allowed to be left unattended. 4. A legal age at which children are allowed to baby-sit. 5. Anonymity for young offenders who are given Asbos. 6. More money for parents through the tax and benefits system. 7. An independent body to set a 'minimum family income'. 8. An increase in Child Benefit and the family element of Child Tax Credits. 9. An end to 'disproportionate' consideration being given to the age, sexuality and religion of potential adoptive parents.

10. Better access for young people to lobby Government on issues such as school meals and tobacco and alcohol advertising.
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 11, 2005
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