Officials pressed to ban parents from spanking

Tuesday, June 24, 2003

LONDON -- Spanking children can lead to more severe abuse, two parliamentary committees said Monday, and urged the government to pass a law barring parents from hitting their children.

The government has already outlawed corporal punishment in day care centers and schools.

But parents and guardians are still permitted to use spanking as "reasonable chastisement," putting Britain out of step with several European countries where all physical punishment of children is illegal.

Lawmakers on the two parliamentary committees -- the Health Committee and the Human Rights Committee -- found that a "reasonable chastisement" defense is too often used to excuse violent behavior that goes far beyond a "loving smack."

They suggested the right of such a defense be repealed, but acknowledged it might be hard to win public support for new laws that could lead to parents being prosecuted for mild smacks.

The Human Rights Committee -- made up of lawmakers in both the House of Lords and the House of Commons -- said current British law doesn't acknowledge children's right to be free from physical assault.

"The time has come for the government to act upon ... the incompatibility of the defense of 'reasonable chastisement' with its obligations under the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child," the committee said.

Britain has a long tradition of corporal punishment. Hitting children with a cane, often until they bled, was a routine classroom punishment for centuries; it was banned from all schools in 1998.

The House of Commons Health Committee, meanwhile, was charged with examining the institutional flaws that led to the February 2000 death of 8-year-old Victoria Climbie, who died of hypothermia and malnourishment with 128 separate injuries on her body.

Her guardians, Marie Therese Kouao and Carl Manning, were found to have inflicted the injuries over several months and are now serving life sentences for her murder.

The Health Committee supported the Human Rights committee's findings and said smacking could easily escalate into greater abuse.

Claire Rayner, a spokeswoman for the Children are Unbeatable Alliance, said current law was outdated. The group represents 350 organizations that want children to have the same legal protection from being hit as adults.

"The archaic law allowing 'reasonable chastisement' of children should have no place in a modern and fair society," Rayner said. "Hitting children is wrong, and the law should say so in the interests of children's rights and child protection."

Physical punishment of children is illegal in several European countries, including Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Austria.

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