24 Mar 2022

Child Care

Smacking and slapping children is now illegal in Wales

As Wales’ legislation banning smacking and slapping children comes into force this week, our head of Children Law at Harding Evans, Siobhan Downes, explains why this change in the law marks a momentous step change for children’s rights.

On Monday 21 March 2022, it became illegal for parents in Wales to smack or slap their children. Described as a “historic” day by First Minister Mark Drakeford, the move means that Wales has become the second nation in the UK to ban physical punishment alongside Scotland.

What does the new smacking ban mean?

In a nutshell, anyone who smacks a child in their care could now be arrested and prosecuted for assault.

Before Monday, anyone charged with common assault for hitting a child could have attempted to use the legal defence of reasonable punishment. Since the new legislation came into force, this defence has been removed, meaning that it is now illegal to smack, hit, slap or shake your child or physically punish them in other ways. Anyone found guilty could face arrest, be charged with assault and have a criminal record.

It also means that children in Wales now have the same protection from assault as adults.

Which other countries have the same ban?

Jersey was the first part of the British Isles to ban smacking in April 2020 before Scotland became the first UK nation to make it illegal in November of the same year. Sweden was the first country in the world to ban physical punishment of children back in 1979 and it is now illegal in 63 nations around the world, yet the law has not changed in England.

What should you do if you see a child being smacked?

People who see a child being physically punished have been advised by Welsh Government to either call the police if the child is in immediate danger or contact their local social services department.

Is everyone in favour of the new law?

When the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment – Wales) Act of 2020 was passed two years ago, Welsh Parliament members voted 36 to 14.

Clear public support is emerging for a similar ban to be introduced in England. More than two-thirds of respondents in a recent YouGov poll commissioned by the NSPCC (insert link) said they felt that physically disciplining a child, such as smacking them, was unacceptable.

The poll also revealed that there was a lack of clarity about the current laws on physical punishment in England, with 58 per cent thinking it was illegal to smack your child, while 20 per cent knew that it was still legal and 22 per cent did not know either way.

Ban supported by children’s charities

When welcoming one of his flagship policies into law this week, Mark Drakeford said, “The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child makes it clear that children have the right to be protected from harm and from being hurt, and that includes physical punishment. That right is now enshrined in Welsh law. No more grey areas. No more defence of reasonable punishment. That is all in the past.”

Viv Laing, from NSPCC Cymru, said “Until now, children were the only group in our society who it was acceptable to strike in certain circumstances. We don’t allow the physical punishment of adults or animals, so it is absurd that we have for so long with children.”

Supporting children’s rights

There is compelling evidence that physically punishing a child can be harmful to their wellbeing and is associated with a broad range of harms that can last a lifetime.

Here at Harding Evans, we welcome any legal developments that are designed to further protect the rights of children. Children have the right to be protected from harm and from being hurt and we are delighted that this is now recognised by the law here in Wales.

Support for parents too

We recognise that it can sometimes be hard for parents to know how best to discipline their children. Parenting can be challenging for all sorts of reasons but there is lots of support available. The Welsh Government’s ‘Parenting. Give it Time’ web pages provide practical hints, tips and expert advice to manage your child’s behaviour and alternatives to physical punishment, while universal parenting support and advice is provided by midwives, health visitors, GPs and Family Information Services.

We can help

Our Children Law department regularly deals with cases where Social Services are involved because of concerns around parenting or because a child’s behaviour is beyond the control of their parents. We know how distressing this can be for both parents and the wider family and can provide the help and support you will need to achieve the best outcome for you and your children at the most sensitive of times. Get in touch on 01633 244 233 or email hello@hevans.com.

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