SMACKING children will become a crime in Wales in a matter of weeks.
The law changes on Monday, March 21, removing the legal defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ and opening the possibility for anyone who smacks a child to be prosecuted for assault.
The Welsh Government passed the law change two years ago, seeing off opposition in the Senedd to win a vote 36-14 on what was described as a “landmark day for children in Wales”.
The government said the law change would help “protect children and their rights, and give them the best start in life”. By banning smacking, ministers argue children in Wales are now given the same protections from assault as adults.
Physical punishment (including smacking, hitting, slapping and shaking) is “not a necessary part of disciplining children” and “doesn’t help children learn about self-control or appropriate behaviour”, the Welsh Government advises, adding that such punishments can hurt children and give them the message violence is an “appropriate response to strong feelings”.
The new law will apply to everyone in Wales, including visitors, and £2.9 million is being invested in parenting support services.
Advice and support for parents and guardians is available on the Welsh Government’s Give It Time website (https://gov.wales/parenting-give-it-time).
Children’s charities like Barnardo’s Cymru and the NSPCC have supported the law change, but the ban has not been welcomed universally.
As well as some opposition in the Senedd, mainly from the Welsh Conservatives, a campaign group called Be Reasonable argued the move would “inevitably catch ordinary, loving parents and turn them into criminals”, and their petition against the government’s proposals collected nearly 2,000 signatures in Wales.
And the Welsh Government’s own studies suggest members of the public are equally divided over the issue.
Researchers carried out three surveys between 2018 and 2020 to gauge public opinion on banning the physical punishment of children.
While support for a smacking ban grew in 2019, research shows that level fell slightly a year later. If anything, people’s opinions have become less rigid, with more people in 2020 than in previous years saying they would need more information before deciding whether they agreed with the law change.
Among those members of the public who said they supported a smacking ban in the last survey, more than one-third (38 per cent) said they did not agree generally with the physical punishment of children.
Other common reasons for supporting the ban included the belief there were other good forms of ensuring good behaviour and discipline (17 per cent), and the belief smacking was abuse, or could lead to abuse (10 per cent).
Meanwhile, one in four people (26 per cent) who said they opposed the smacking ban in the most recent survey did so because they believed physical punishment was needed to control behaviour, the discipline a child, to teach respect or to show boundaries.
Other common reasons for opposing the law change included the belief smacking doesn’t do any harm (22 per cent) – including cases when people said it hadn’t done themselves or their own children any harm – and that smacking was OK if it was a reasonable punishment and doesn’t go too far.
Not everyone who smacks a child from March 21 will be automatically prosecuted. Wales’ four police forces have been encouraged to consider a “rehabilitative alternative to prosecution” if this is more appropriate.
“In cases where the police decide it is appropriate to offer an out of court disposal, there will be an option of tailored parenting support to encourage positive parenting techniques and help avoid re-offending,” the government has advised.
Those parenting support schemes will be offered by councils.