Electronic Telegraph, June 19, 1999
One in 6 children beaten severely at home, says survey
By Andrew Riley
NINE out of 10 children have been struck by their parents and almost one in six has been severely beaten, says a study this week.
Parents admit beating their children as often as they had been nearly 20 years ago, despite abolition of corporal punishment in schools.
Child care groups reacted with dismay to the study, the main points of which are to be published by the Department of Health on Wednesday.
The report by the Thomas Coram research unit at London University said that a few parents had put their children's heads under water and others had poured hot water over them.
About a third of children aged four, plus a quarter of those aged seven, were hit more than once a week. Figures show only a small reduction in beating since the last comprehensive survey on the issue in 1977. Twenty-four per cent of seven-year-olds had been hit hard, the study of 403 families in a home counties town and an inner London suburb.
A few mothers admitted pinching, scratching and biting their children. Some unruly children were made to wash their mouths out with salt or soap, or made to eat mustard sandwiches if they refused their supper.
Mothers were more likely to hit their children than fathers
Perhaps surprisingly, the survey showed that mothers were more likely to hit their children than fathers, even when the care of children was shared equally.
The figures were based largely on the testimony of parents. But half the children surveyed said it was right for their parents to smack them and most intended to smack their children when they became adults.
The study is one of 20 studies on child abuse and child protection commissioned by the Department of Health. A spokesman for the Department said: "We know the smacking of children by parents is normal, in that most do it.
"But it is important to look at the wider context. In a warm and supporting environment, a smack is highly unlikely to be harmful.
"On the other hand, there is no evidence of any benefit from smacking children. It might make parents feel better but it is unlikely to alter a child's behaviour."
A spokesman for the children's charity Barnardo's was "surprised" by the figures, which were far higher than previously thought.
"The extent to which children are being regularly hit and beaten is alarming. We would try to encourage parents to use other forms of discipline than corporal punishment because it can cause damage to the child and we do not believe it works."