A new survey on behalf of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People has revealed that the majority of people here (63%) now support children being legally protected from hitting, smacking and assault.
Currently the law in Northern Ireland allows the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ for parents who physically punish their child, however fifty-two countries around the world have already banned physical punishment and Northern Ireland is one of the few European countries where it still remains legal. Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, commented: “Parents have the toughest and yet most rewarding job, and there is no manual, but for too long now parents have been given mixed messages about how to effectively discipline their children. Updating our laws would give clarity to parents, who when at their most stressed, could be supported to deal with challenging situations.”
But critics fear that a complete ban would threaten parents who try to do the best for their children, and pave the way for contentious, expensive and time-wasting prosecutions. Norman Wells of the Family Education Trust said: “The Westminster government has been clear that it is opposed to criminalising parents who use a mild smack to discipline their children.”
We wanted to find out if Ni4kids readers would also support a complete ban, or believe that legislation is not the answer and that there is a huge difference between a mild smack for discipline, and an actual physical assault on a child by a parent.
Several parents who gave their opinion did not support the poll results and did not believe smacking should be completely banned. Mum Eileen Christie said, “No it shouldn't be banned. There is a vast difference between a smack for discipline from a loving, caring parent and abuse.” And Jacqueline Plunkett agrees that, ‘Parents should have to right to discipline their children the way they choose within reason.’ Many parents who responded confessed that they had been smacked as a child but did not see that as an ‘abuse’. Claire Smyth wrote, ‘I knew my parents loved me and I was never chastised without provocation. I am not traumatised by any of my experiences of discipline from my parents, even when I knew sometimes they did it out of frustration. There are so many variables another solution [rather than a ban] needs to be found to establish healthy dynamics within a family.’
Many parents like Leah Morrison felt that, ‘There is a difference between smacking a child and hitting a child’, and that it ‘should be up to the parent what type of punishment they use’. However she was also keen to stress that ‘it should be a last resort if all else fails and a smack which leaves a mark is wrong.’ Catherine Marmion also disagrees with a total ban stating, ‘It should be up to each parent’s discretion. We know our kids best, and what’s best for them’ and Cherish McWhinney also feels that it should be acceptable ‘within reason’.
Many of our commenters though, while they agreed that parents should have some discretion, were also totally opposed to any other adult, included carers, grandparents or other relatives inflicting the same punishment. Eimear Mallon<.b> strongly believes, ‘Anyone, and I mean anyone, looking after children who are not their own should one hundred percent NOT be lifting their hand to a child for discipline.’
Within our feedback, the majority of respondents said they would in fact support a ban on smacking, believing that hitting a child promotes fear rather than respect, it teaches children to hit others and that once a parent has resorted to smacking, they have lost control of the situation.
Mum Karen Louise asked, ‘Why would anybody want to make their child feel fear? Before I had my children I felt very differently, but it is no more acceptable for me to hit my child than it would be for me to hit my husband.’ Dervla O’Neill agrees completely saying, ‘Yes it absolutely should be banned. No child (indeed person of any age) should be struck. Violence is not the answer!’ Bronagh McKenny agreed with that sentiment adding, ‘I don't have children myself, but can say that I find it extremely uncomfortable watching a child being smacked by an adult. I don't believe it is an effective or necessary form of punishment and there are other ways to address bad behaviour. If I were a parent I would want my child to respect me, not fear me.’
Charlene McCourt also argued for a ban stating, ‘Children can be testing at times, but at the end of the day they are children and we are supposed to be adults looking after their wellbeing. Ultimately by smacking your child we are raising kids to think it's appropriate to lash out with temper! I'm pretty sure if we all think about being smacked as a child we wouldn't have wanted to be. And let's face it, it doesn't solve the issues long term!’ And Kerry Teague says to the campaign to stop smacking, ‘Absolutely!’ Although she also adds; ‘Before we start prosecuting parents for doing their best, we need to help them learn better ways to discipline kids. I'd love to see programmes like Incredible Years made much more available, for health visitors to be given more training, and time, to carry out home visits and give out pamphlets about effective discipline alongside nutrition literature etc.’
Paula Jackson feels strongly that, ‘It’s abuse and should be banned. If you hit your child because you have lost your temper that’s wrong.’ And Maria Vallely is confident, ‘It doesn't teach problem solving or understanding. It does however teach children how to bully, and throw their weight around and how to treat smaller versions of themselves.’
What the experts say:
Pauline Leeson, Chief Executive of Children in Northern Ireland believes it is time that the government change its policy on smacking children and extend equal protection for all children and young people.
She said, “Children in Northern Ireland has been working to seek full legal reform so that children have the same protection as adults from physical punishment within the law, and to promote positive parenting methods which reinforce discipline in a non-violent way. For us this new law is not to prosecute parents but to change attitudes and send a clear message that children, like adults, must be protected from assault.
“Under Article 2 of the Law Reform (2006) Northern Ireland, the defence of reasonable chastisement has been removed for more serious assaults on children but has been retained for the offence of common assault. It is our view that a full legislative ban on physical punishment should be provided to allow children to be protected against assault as everyone else in society is.
Image - ID 29613630 © Ia64 | Dreamstime.com