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The facts on smacking and what a change in the law would mean; The Welsh Government has launched a 12-week consultation on proposals that would effectively ban smacking. What does the law say now? Is it legal to smack your child and will it be made illegal? Here's what you need to know...

| Can I legally smack my child? In Wales, as in England, it is illegal to hit a child - as it is illegal to hit anyone - but parents have a legal defence that allows them to do it.

It is currently lawful for a parent or carer to smack their child where it amounts to "reasonable chastisement".

This defence is laid down in the Children Act 2004, but it is not defined in the legislation.

Whether a "smack" amounts to reasonable punishment will depend on the circumstances of each case, taking into consideration factors like the age of the child and the nature of the smack, according to legal experts. Physical punishment is considered "unreasonable" if it leaves a mark on the child or if the child is hit with an implement such as a cane or a belt.

| How often has that defence been used? A handful of times in recent years, according to most recent records quoted in the Welsh Government consultation document.

A UK government review in 2007 showed the defence of reasonable punishment was used in 12 cases between January 2005 and February 2007, all resulting in either acquittal or discontinuance. Of these 12, there were four where it was explicitly used as a defence to a charge of common assault; four where the defendant had been charged with common assault, did not explicitly use the defence but where it may have been a factor in acquittal or discontinuance; and four where reasonable punishment was put forward by the defence despite the fact that it did not constitute a legal defence to the charge of child cruelty.

| So it's not used much? Why bother to remove it? Because it is outdated and anachronistic, attitudes to parenting have changed and violence against children has no place in modern Wales, says Welsh Government Minister for Children and Social Care Huw-Irranca Davies.

| So smacking will be banned in Wales, then? The Welsh Government says it is committed to stopping corporal punishment of children by removing the defence of reasonable punishment in Wales. It isn't adding a law or offence, but removing a defence.

| Isn't it up to parents to decide how to discipline their children? The Be Reasonable Campaign says so; it says smacking should not be confused with beating and should be a matter for parents.

Campaign spokeswoman Lowri Turner says: "We welcome any genuine consultation, but we have been disappointed by the emotionally charged language used by those wanting to change the law. They try to make out that a gentle smack on the back of the legs from a loving mum is the same as beating up your kids - it is not. Forcing through this punitive legislation regardless of the opposition from Welsh families will merely criminalise ordinary parents."

| Will smacking become a criminal offence, then? The proposed change would not create a new criminal offence, but would remove a defence to the existing offence of common assault or battery. This would give children the same protection as adults now have.

| Won't this mean parents are criminalised? The Welsh Government says its aim is to protect children, not criminalise parents, and that it will exercise proportionality. It will also continue positive parenting campaigns and support to families.

| What's happened in other countries which changed the law on smacking? Evidence from other countries does not show a rise in parents prosecuted for assault, the Welsh Government says.

There has been no rise in the proportion of reported assaults that are prosecuted in either Sweden, the first country to end corporal punishment in 1979, or New Zealand, which ended it in 2007, according to the Welsh Government consultation document. Opponents to a change say higher numbers of parents are investigated in New Zealand since the law changed there, though.

| Why not just have a public awareness campaign against smacking? Ending corporal punishment requires more than raising public awareness, the Welsh Government believes.

"Whilst it is acknowledged that a proportion of adults will willingly review and adjust their attitudes and behaviours in the face of evidence and information, it is also recognised that significant behavioural change often occurs only in response to legislation or law reform," it says.

| When will the change happen, if it does? Not for a couple of years. Legislation will be drawn up in a bill late this year/early next year and will take around another year to go through the Welsh Assembly. This means the defence would probably not be removed for at least two years.

| Is smacking prevalent? Physically punishing children was accepted as normal practice in previous generations, but parents today are less comfortable about it.

In 1998, 88% of British adults agreed that "it is sometimes necessary to smack a naughty child", while in 2015 only 24% of parents in Wales supported this statement, government research shows.

| Can children be physically punished legally at school or in care? No. The use of corporal punishment was commonplace in schools until the 1980s but from 1986 the UK Parliament restricted the use of corporal punishment, prohibiting it in all state-maintained schools in 1987 and in independent schools in 1999. Its use was ended in children's homes in 2001, local authority foster care in 2002 and in childcare provision in 2007. It is illegal for teachers, nursery staff, and care workers to smack children. Privately hired carers such as nannies or baby-sitters may smack, but only if permission has been given by the parents.

| Is smacking really bad for children? Some studies have found no relation between physical punishment and negative outcomes and some have. The Welsh Government says no peer-reviewed research has shown improvements in developmental health as a result of parents' use of physical punishment, or that physical punishment has any long-term positive effect. There is no evidence that smacking is associated with improved behaviour in children.

| But a light smack is not the same as a beating, is it? Welsh Government says research shows there is a danger of escalation if any form of physical punishment is used. Its consultation adds: "The prevailing view from child development experts, backed up by research, is that corporal punishment does not work and that other alternatives are more effective at teaching children the right sort of behaviour." Some research suggests there may be a danger of escalation from milder to harsher forms of physical punishment over time.

| Which other countries have banned corporal punishment of children? A total of 53 countries have ended corporal punishment in all settings, including the home. They include Ireland, France, Iceland and Argentina. Smacking children will also be banned in Scotland, the Scottish Government has confirmed.

| So how can I have a say on the proposed change? Have your say here: https://consultations.gov.wales/consultations/ legislative-proposal-removedefence-reasonable-punishment

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The Welsh Government plans to remove the defence of reasonable punishment to the offences of battery and assault
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jan 10, 2018
Words:1148
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