Smack your child and get a criminal record, Welsh parents warned

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People who work with children who see a child being physically punished have been told to contact social services.

The Welsh Government says that from March 21 “physically punishing children will be illegal” and anyone breaking the new rules “risks being arrested or charged with assault”. Police will no longer be able to consider the defence of “reasonable punishment”.

Simon Calvert of the Be Reasonable campaign, which opposes the change in the law, said: “This recent guidance gives the lie to the frequent claims made by ministers, officials and activists that repealing the reasonable chastisement defence would not criminalise ordinary, loving parents.”

Mr Calvert said the move had “little to do with tackling genuine abuse, which is already illegal” and warned that “many people will think they have been misled over the impact of this ban on ordinary parents.”  

Darren Millar, a Conservative member of the Senedd, said: “The Welsh Government’s guidance flies in the face of the assurances that ministers gave to people across Wales when they introduced their unnecessary ban on physical chastisement. Demonising mums and dads who use the occasional smack to discipline their children is plain wrong and encouraging people to shop them to their local social services or the police could have dire consequences for families.

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“Parenting is hard enough as it is, we should be encouraging and supporting parents, not criminalising them.”

However, Joanna Barrett of the NSPCC, defended Wales’ move to end physical punishment and pushed for the defence of “reasonable punishment” to be removed in England and Northern Ireland as well, saying: “Over 50 countries have taken the vital step to give children the same legal protection from assault as adults. This has not involved creating a new offence, but simply removing an out-of-date defence.

“Scotland joined the club in 2020 and Wales will follow suit in a matter of weeks, with legislators responding to the mounting evidence that physically punishing a child is not an effective way of disciplining them and that it can have lasting and harmful impacts on their lives. There is also nothing to suggest these changes have led to the increased criminalisation of parents.

“That is why we support the removal of the obsolete defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ if a child is assaulted in England and Northern Ireland, putting them in line with the rest of the UK.”

The UK Government has “no plans” to legislate, arguing that “clear laws” are in place to deal with violence towards children.

A Welsh Government spokeswoman, said: “We have always been clear that this legislation is about protecting children and their rights. It gives children the same protection from assault as adults.

“It will make the law clearer – easier for children, parents, professionals and the public to understand. From March 21, all types of physical punishment will be illegal in Wales.”

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