Ban parents from smacking ( report.
Parents should be banned from smacking their children and the criminal age of responsibility should be increased from 10 to 12, argues a report out yesterday.
The study, from the Commission on Families and the Wellbeing of Children, said punishing parents for their children's crimes should also be the "exception rather than the rule".
The law currently states that children under 10 cannot commit crimes because they are too young to weigh up what is right and wrong and 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, even though a "degree of maturation" is achieved by 14. Eminent 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.
Although it was fair to say there was overlap, there needed to be a "cut off" age to mark out responsibility in a court of law.
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 reintroduced 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 restricted to those who have rejected parenting support offered to them on a voluntary basis". It added: "Legal sanctions such as fines and imprisonment against parents on account of the misbehaving of their children should be restricted to parents of children who are below the age of criminal responsibility and parents of children found to be incapable of criminal intent."
The report also recommended a ban on smacking, saying: "The defence to a charge of common assault of reasonable chastisement by a parent should be abolished."
Sir Michael said evidence showed that smacking children 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. The NSPCC said it "strongly welcomed" the report's 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 or 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 to increase understanding of a child's behaviour at different stages of their development.
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 the Government listened to this mounting support and fulfilled its human rights obligations."