UK The children bill, published last week, looks backwards and forwards. The response to Lord Laming's inquiry into the torture and death of Victoria Climbié, it is also a signal that children are at the heart of government thinking. That makes it all the more perplexing that the Bill does not include a ban on smacking.
Legislation to bolster child protection offered the ideal opportunity to repeal the Victorian defence of reasonable chastisement, which effectively allows parents to hit children where they can claim the punishment was justified. There are many reasons to rescind this arcane measure. A system under which it is lawful to hit a baby but not an adult puts this country in breach of the UN convention on the rights of the child. Since Sweden banned smacking three decades ago, child deaths at the hands of parents have fallen to zero. In Britain, they average one a week. The Government has resisted such arguments. Fearful of charges of nanny statism, it has claimed, and still does, that a majority of parents do not favour a ban. But in eight other European countries, once-sceptical adults have been overwhelmingly converted to non-punitive means.
There are encouraging signs that Ministers are shifting. As a sizable anti-smacking lobby prepares to force a Commons amendment to the Bill, Education Secretary Charles Clarke is considering his options. One is a compromise to make persistent smacking illegal but not outlaw taps of admonishment. However appealing, that would be convoluted and unworkable. While no humane society should criminalise a fraught but loving parent who taps a child's hand in a supermarket, we need a law that can change the culture of a society scarred by child cruelty. An outright ban on smacking is a vital step towards a safer, happier life for millions of children. The Government must take it.
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