MP poised to bring in bill on smacking ban
By John Carvel and Sarah Boseley
The Guardian, Friday October 10, 2003

Legislation to implement one of the main recommendations of the UN report on the UK's failure to protect the rights of children will be introduced in the Commons this month by David Hinchliffe, Labour chairman of the health select committee.

Following a major Guardian investigation into the neglect of children's rights in the UK, which featured testimony from 10 children on issues of concern to the UN, from asylum to poverty, jail and education, Mr Hinchliffe said last night that he would table a private member's bill to take away parents' right to justify smacking their children as "reasonable chastisement".

Although the bill is unlikely to make progress in the closing stages of this parliamentary session, it is seen by children's charities as the basis for a cross-party campaign to amend the government's planned legislation to reform child protection in response to the death of Victoria Climbié.

Mr Hinchliffe said: "The current law discriminates against children because it gives them lesser rights than adults when faced with domestic violence.

"The defence of reasonable chastisement results in significant numbers of children being unprotected. It is used successfully when child protection agencies intervene.

"I worked in child protection for 20 years before becoming an MP and I have personal experience on more than one occasion of losing court proceedings against parents using this defence when there was solid evidence of abuse.

"Other countries that have banned smacking have seen a significant reduction in child abuse. In Sweden, not one child has died at the hands of a parent or carer over the last 10 years, compared with at least one a week in this country."

The UN congratulated the Guardian for the series of articles yesterday letting children explain the difficulties they face. Gerrit Beger, a spokesman for Unicef, said: "This is an excellent illustration of how Britain is failing to live up to its commitments under the UN convention on rights of the child. In addition to the cases you highlighted, those who get an even worse deal are foreign children trafficked into the UK. They are deprived of any care."

Liz Atkins, head of policy at the children's charity NSPCC, said: "It is a year since the UN shamed the UK for its record on child abuse deaths. But we are far short of a fully-fledged strategy which would meet the NSPCC's call to cut the deaths by half in 10 years. The number of children killed in this country has remained the same for 30 years and there are no signs yet of this going down."

The Children are Unbeatable alliance of charities said: "The international pressure for reform as a human rights obligation is overwhelming and simply won't go away. This is being matched at home by the strong professional consensus and the growing number of calls for change in the political arena.

"It is now not a question of if but of when the law should afford children equal protection from assault. The government must start preparing for reform, and, at the very least, shift their rhetoric from condoning physical punishment to a clear position that hitting children is wrong."

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