Thursday, October 25, 2007

Government right not to outlaw smacking

The BBC reports:
A complete ban on smacking has been rejected by ministers, after a review suggested most parents opposed one.

Laws were tightened in England and Wales in 2004, but minister Kevin Brennan said they appeared to be working and would not change further.
This seems to me the right decision. How could a complete ban on smacking possibly be policed? If this power were given to the authorities it would inevitably be exercised in an uneven and arbitrary fashion.

And please do not say that you want a law to "send a message". Laws do not send messages: they involve people in worry and expense even if they are innocent or not eventually prosecuted.

It will be interesting to see what the party's reaction is. In recent years Liberal Democrat spokesmen have tended to support a complete ban, in part because our policy is often written for us by pressure groups. Here is Joan Walmsley speaking in 2004:
"Assaulting a child is as unacceptable as assaulting an adult, and the law should clearly say so."
Leaving aside the overblown language of "assaulting", I do find this argument interesting. Those who oppose smacking generally deploy it as though it is absolutely clinching. If it is wrong do X to and adult, then it must be wrong to do X to a child. QED.

But there are all sorts of things we do children that we would never dream of doing to an adult. We make them go to school, we send them to bed before the end of Heroes, we make them eat up their greens.

If smacking children is wrong, it cannot be just because it involves treating children differently from adults.

More than that, this arguments feeds the current crisis in relations between adults and children. In my more fogeyish moments, I believe the problem is not so much that parents don't discipline their children as that they somehow believe they are no longer allowed to discipline their children.

I am pleased that smacking is on the way out, but I do not believe a complete ban is workable or desirable.


Anonymous said...

In Autumn 2003, Federal Conference passed the motion "Physical Punishment of Children", which called on the Government to "introduce legislation to remove the 'reasonable chastisement' defence and thus give children equal protection under the law on assault."

Anonymous said...

One of those embarrassing conference resolutions you wish the wider membership had been consulted on.

Unfortunately by stigmatising smacking, the system is going to be unable to teach parents how to use it sensibly. I've read today that consultations with children suggest they would respond to incentives such as withdrawal of television and sweets.

That's true beyond a certain age. But there is a period between about one and two and a half when they are too young to respond to reason. They need to be set very clear boundaries of behaviour. Lashing out wildly doesn't do it. Teaching the child to count and helping them understand the point at which they will be punished does the trick. It's because so many parents lose the battle at this age they never regain control of their children.

Your comments are right on, Jonathan.