Hitting children

The government is launching new legislation to bring up to date existing laws for the protection of children from sexual and other abuse — but not including any attempt to discourage one of the commonest kinds of child abuse, the hitting of children by adults.  Adopting the shameful euphemism "smacking" to disguise what is in fact the use of violence against smaller, weaker, least protected and most vulnerable members of our human community, the government refuses to outlaw a practice which has been banned in a large and growing number of civilised European countries.  The government thus displays its usual timidity in confronting the predictable outrage of Sun, Daily Mail and Daily Telegraph readers at any hint of interference in their inalienable right to assault those for whose safety and happiness they are responsible, and who can’t imagine a better way of developing their children’s moral sensibilities than inflicting physical pain and psychological humiliation on them, thereby teaching them that violence is a proper and legitimate response to virtually any problem.  Of course it’s obviously true that outlawing the hitting of children won’t stop parents continuing to "smack" their kids when their defiant or dangerous behaviour drives weary mothers or angry fathers to lose control of themselves.  And equally obviously, a legal ban on hitting children can’t be universally enforceable (although it would be a useful argument to deploy against the people one so often sees bashing their weeping infants in supermarkets and other stressful environments).  But the function of law is not only to prevent prohibited behaviour and to punish those who engage in it:  there is also an important normative function in declaring that certain kinds of behaviour are unacceptable and unjustifiable, even if we know that they will continue. Just because innumerable drivers break the speed limit on our perilous roads every day of their lives, and it’s plainly impossible to enforce the speed limit at all times on every road, it’s not suggested that there should be no legal limit on the speed at which one’s allowed to drive on the public highway.  Many other kinds of illegal behaviour, such as racial discrimination, are similarly commonplace and enforcement of many such laws can only be patchy, but that doesn’t mean there should be no laws against reprehensible and antisocial behaviour.  Adults are protected by law from violence against them by other adults:  yet children, far more vulnerable than adults, may lawfully be subjected to what the law (dating back to 1860) is pleased to call "reasonable chastisement", a weasel phrase which has constantly enabled serial child-abusers to get away with it.  There was a time when husbands were entitled by the law to inflict "reasonable chastisement" on their wives:  no doubt when it was proposed to abolish that licence, exactly the same objections were raised to its abolition as those now raised against any proposal to outlaw the use of violence against children.  Our failure to ban the "smacking" of children puts us in breach of Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, ratified by the UK in 1991.  Yet the opportunity to put matters right is to be lost.  Why are we always lagging at the rear when it comes to even modest social reform, and when will a supposedly modernising centre-left government with a huge majority in the House of Commons pluck up its courage to do what every minister must know is right and necessary?

13 Responses

  1. Natalie says:

    Hey I am a 17 year old youth from New Zealand. personally i do not think that smacking children should be out lawed. I was never hit as a child well the odd time when i acted up but it taught me respect and that wasnt even hard. later in life whent his law is passed people will start complaining that the youth these days are just out of control…why because they had no disapline in there childhood years. i am not talking about knocking them into the middle of next week. I view smacking as being a lite tap on the leg just to let them know who to respect. i think alot of the situations have been over exagerated and for the examples of sever child abuse is very serious but adults should know when to call it when

  2. Mary says:

    Natalie – I totally agree. I’m a mother and now a grandmother. My 26 year old daughter will tell you that what’s wrong with children today is that they aren’t being desciplined because it’s wrong to “smack” a child. A smack is a tap on the leg or the rear end. “Beating” a child is where it’s going too far. Whether there is a law or not, those that ‘beat’ their children will continue to do so, but those of us that believe a little “smack’ now and then is needed will be punished. Kids today know they can get a way with disrepecting people because we as parents can no longer discipline our children. In my days our parents used a belt or a switch off the nearest tree – it smarted, but we were never ‘beaten’ one or two wacks on our bottom end and we knew we’d done wrong – my father only had to do it once to me – and I learned.

  3. Brian says:

    I’m afraid that Mary’s and Natalie’s comments only reinforce my point: that ‘smack’ is a mealy-mouthed, self-regarding euphemism for ‘hit’ or ‘beat’. Mary even seems to regard beating a child — a girl, too — with a belt and a cane (or switch, anyway a length of wood) as perfectly legitimate and justified, just a kind of smacking, really. Just last week I witnessed a man at a restaurant table on holiday with his family, repeatedly hitting a small boy’s upper leg extremely hard with his fist and shouting at him, while the child cried piteously and the mother looked on helplessly. This child abuser would undoubtedly have claimed that all he was doing was ‘smacking’ him, that it was necessary discipline, and all the rest of the rubbish that gets trotted out every time the subject is raised. The next day a middle-aged man sitting at the same table as me in a different restaurant was holding forth about how what was wrong with the present generation was that they weren’t ‘disciplined’ in the way he and his school friends had been: what unruly kids needed, he said, was to have their heads — their heads!!! — knocked about a bit by their parents and their teachers when they misbehaved. Hitting a child on the head? Smacking? (Another person at the same table, a former teacher, remarked crisply that a teacher who hit a child was a failure. The man sneered at her.)

    Adults enjoy the protection of the law against being subjected to violence by other adults, or even violence by children. Children, who are smaller and weaker and infinitely more vulnerable than adults, who depend on adults for their safety and for love, have no such protection: adults can hit them with impunity. And please don’t tell me that smacking isn’t hitting. We should be ashamed of ourselves for allowing this vicious and self-defeating practice to continue in our societies now in the 21st century. Resorting to physical violence against those smaller and weaker than oneself to express disapproval: what kind of disgusting message does that send?



  4. panthergirl says:

    Brian, I could not agree more. I realize this is an archived posting, but I was doing a search for laws against hitting children (I am in the US and we need this law, badly).

    Quite simply, why are adults protected from physical abuse by other adults, but children do not enjoy that same protection? I can’t smack my elderly MOTHER, even though she inflicted plenty of physical abuse on me as a child.

    Parents should not be left to their own devices to determine what the definition of “spanking” is. It should simply be unlawful to lay a hand on a child. Period.

  5. vaness says:

    I think it is very wrong for people to hit children because it is wrong imagin you are young and a teacher hits a child

  6. amelia says:

    I’m a 16 year old australian youth, currently studying my final year at high school and am currently in the process of preparing an oral presentation for my english class which argues "for spanking". I am arguing this not because i am a beleiver of child abuse or physical violoence of any form. I am not too keen on the actual idea of spanking for i was spanked when i was a child along with my older brother and sister by both my mother and my father (mainly my father), and i can remember what it felt like-both the pain, the fear and the embarassment. but, i am arguing for spanking, because of the lessons it taught me. if deleivered correctly, spanking/smacking/one or two swift swipes to the childs buttocks or leg with the plam of the hand…can teach a child alot of lifes lessons in a better way. by this i mean: if a child is playing with a knife near the toaster and decides to stick the knife in the toaster, the parent would smack the knife away and then smack the child on the rump (and hopefully later on when the child has clamed down, explain why it was done). the child would learn not to do that again out of fear of getting a smack, or if they were old enough to understand the explanation, still be alive to have learnt the lesson. if anyone has any strong opinions or rebutles for me, please email me. aussie_spaz101@hotmail.com 

  7. Ricy says:

    my parents hit me all the time and always get away with it!
    any advice?

  8. Christy says:

    I am 14, I was smacked as a child and I totally agree with this law. To be smacked as a child never tauight me anything, it made me more stubborn and gets me in to more trouble today. I hated the fact that I was given bruises for taking a tantrum (this was me expressing my opionon in an open way which was not allowed). When you hit a child you don’t set a good example for later life. It makes it ok for that child tyo grow up hitting other people because their role models have hit them. Sitting down and talking to a child, talling them waht they’ve done wrong but still loving them would hav much more impact on me. It has made me resent my father (and my mother for not protecting me) and teaching children those emotions at a young age is by no way acceptable to me!

  9. As the new mother of a six-month-old baby, I cannot imagine how anyone could hit their own child though maybe my views will change as he grows older – he is still far too young to be ‘naughty’

    I was smacked as a child on a few occasions – as I remember, it did not really hurt – it was more the humiliation that ‘taught me a lesson’. The threat of being smacked alone was usually enough to stop me misbehaving

  10. Jamie says:

    I was spanked on my butt by my father’s belt when I was, what, 3-5 years old? Yeah, it did hurt. My younger brother had the same treatment, and it was only because my dad was beaten by the belt by his own dad. Did it taught us anything? Hell no. My brother is still a big fat meanie and I’m usually in trouble at school. Now I’m learning and trying to be a good girl, but that’s because I had to learn it myself, not because of my dad. My dad hardly tells me he loves me. Now we have a baby girl and when she’s really mean and calls my mother bad names, something I have never done when I was younger, and yet she never gets the belt, or atleast a smack on her butt. She is still out of control, and I am still depressed.


    When I grow up, I will NEVER hit, spank, or injure my beautiful children. Because hitting them physically won’t do shit. And this is me speaking from personal expreriences.

  11. Indie says:

    I just got 'smacked' by my parents all of 10 minutes ago. I am a 14 year old girl (UK) and am a very quiet,docile teenager. i do not drink, i do not go out late, i do not get into trouble. I got ' smacked' becuase i had just done an hours revision and was going to watch a programme on tv n then go back to revision, i explained this to my mum , yet she proceeded to shout at me, teling me i cause arguements,i told her to leave me a lone and that i would do more revision later but i needed a break as i cant concentrate for very long at one time (she sed i could and i was being lazy ) and told her to go away, i got told to 'dont u dare speak to me like that ever again' and a smack, i now have a red handprint on my arm/shoulder. My dad then came and started shouting at me too. By many peoples means this is not considered a hard smack at all, but it frightened me, upset me, and by my thoughts, was totally unesscessary…

    No-one i know will ever find out and i will continue to have huge amounts of pressure put on me that i cannot cope with about school. What my mum doesnt know is that a  week ago i went to the gp, and i have moderate-severe depression (he thinks caused by my family) as i am also often hit and told i am ugly fat and stupid by my 17yr old sister.. so i suggest to any parents out there that u stop spengding your time 'smaking' your children and punishing them for little things and start listening and talking to them about their feelings…before u end up with a child that simply cannot cope….

    Brian writes:  Indie, assuming that your message is genuine, I sympathise:  but you will discover when you have teenage children of your own one day that bringing up teenagers is even more stressful than being one — I have been a teenager myself and also helped to bring up three teenagers, and I know.  Luckily the condition of being a teenager is curable by time, and hardly ever fatal.  Depression is part and parcel of it for most teenagers:  if it's any consolation, you're sharing it with almost everyone else of your age.  You can't seriously complain that your Mum isn't sympathetic to you when you're depressed if you didn't tell her that you were going to your GP about it:  if you want sympathy and understanding, it's usually sensible to talk to your parents about your problems.  But I agree that hitting people is a thoroughly bad idea, and being hit is even worse.  Good luck!

  12. Den says:

    Punishment has been around for many years as is the reasons for punishment. Most civilised countries have courts, prisons and some still maintain captital punishment. Children learn that basicly their actions suffer consequencies and this will remain with us all through our lives until death. I feel that a child SHOULD be smacked, but as a last resort, after warnings and never applied in anger. If more children were smacked, there would be less violence, yes LESS violence. Why? because they will understand that smacking is a punishment administered by those that love and care for their well being, they will understand the difference between controlled punishment and violence. Smacking is NOT beating, abuse etc. etc. as some have stated,. If a child is brought up with love and understanding in ADDITION to smacking, he/she will know it was/is for a very good reason.

    Brian writes:  It's curious that people such as 'Den', author of this comment, should feel so strongly that children, the most vulnerable members of our society, small, defenceless and utterly dependent for their security and for love on adults, "SHOULD" be hit, when society doesn't sanction hitting members of any other group apart from boxers.  The question of punishment is of course an entirely separate issue.  Only children are allowed by law to be hit — deliberately physically hurt and humiliated, unable to defend themselves or to hit back — as a form of punishment.  Weird and mediaeval. (Use of the word 'smack' as a weasel euphemism for 'hit' is a sad give-away.)  Next time you're cross with some adult your own size on a bus or a train or in a shop for behaving badly, Den, try 'smacking' him, and see what happens.

  13. scooby says:

    hi, i am now 32 and still remember getting the belt from my dad, i was the youngest of 9 and in all honesty i think my dad did a pretty good job looking after us, keeping us all in line was the best thing he ever did. it really wasnt nice when you knew you were going to get the belt over the hand so we all thought very hard before we decided on doing something bad. if we moved our hand we got an extra one too!!  i,  now the mother of a very trying 3 yr old and a 16 month old who copies every move of his brother, do not get the belt, but when the 3yr old gets out of control, my 3 yr old gets timeout and understands why he is in time out, but he now and then tries me after he is out of timeout, he HITS his brother 24 / 7 and it is not shown in my house, so he isnt following our actions, i smacked his bum once after this started and it was very light but he was so upset, he hardly ever hits his brother ever since, i told him it isnt nice to hit and that his brother feels what he felt when i smacked his bum, evey time he goes for his little brother i count to three, he usually stops in his tracks when i do this.he thinks if i get to three then there will be a punishment… ie  sent to his room or a light smack on the bum, either way its working. like i said before, me and my 8 brothers and sisters were all very well behaved knowing there was going to be a punishment and its now working a generation later.we are all well and healthy, i DO NOT agree with a big smack or punch, a child will feel it either way , hard or soft.hitting hard is a form of bullying and will not help matters, only worsen them, yes i was a little scared of getting the belt, but believe me, it didnt happen very often because any kind of pain was enough to stop me from doing wrong. now adays kids are so rude to their parents and i would never have done that. something is very differnt nowadays.i only hope that my kids turn out like our family did.never in trouble with the police,polite, grateful etc.we were shown alot of love from my mum and i do the same with my kids.