Ministers in Cardiff are hoping Wales will become the first country in the UK to stop fathers, mothers and other adults acting in a parental capacity from physically punishing their children.
If passed by the assembly, it will be made law and children will have the same protection from physical punishment as adults.
Under current laws, parents cannot be criminally convicted for smacking their children as long as the punishment is considered to be ‘reasonable’. But the new proposals would see this defence removed.
The Welsh government insisted parents and guardians would still be able to raise children effectively, claiming the proposed law would not stop them from grabbing a child about to step out into a busy road, or brushing a youngster’s hair against his or her will.
Julie Morgan, the deputy minister for health and social services, said: “We are sending a clear message that the physical punishment of children is not acceptable in Wales. What may have been deemed as appropriate in the past is no longer acceptable. Our children must feel safe and be treated with dignity.”
The Government-led bill is being supported by a number of organisations including the NSPCC, Barnardo’s and Action for Children, and comes as a private members bill in Scotland is currently being considered by MSPs which would remove the defence of “justifiable assault” in Scots law.
But the campaign group Be Reasonable, backed by The Christian Institute and The Family Education Trust, argued the move would criminalise ordinary parents.
Spokeswoman Lowri Turner said: “It is disappointing that the Welsh Government has decided to press on with this unnecessary piece of legislation that will do nothing to protect children, but will criminalise loving parents.
“As we have seen from a slew of Freedom of Information requests, parents suspected of smacking face suspension, investigation by the police and social services, and prosecution.”
Research published last year found 81% of parents of young children in Wales disagreed that “it is sometimes necessary to smack a naughty child”.
Meanwhile, the Parental Attitudes Towards Managing Young Children’s Behaviour 2017 survey found only 11% of parents with young children reported they had smacked their children in the last six months.
The bill will now be scrutinised by AMs, with Welsh Government sources confident it will be passed by the National Assembly and brought into law after achieving Royal Assent by Spring 2020.
Welcoming the announcement, Sally Holland, children’s commissioner for Wales, said: “There’s nothing reasonable about physically punishing a child. This bill sends a clear signal that Wales is a country which protects children; a country which will afford children equal protection from physical punishment as adults; a country which promotes children’s rights.”
Viv Laing, head of policy at NSPCC Cymru, said: “It’s wrong that children in Wales have less protection from assault and that a legal defence which does not exist when an adult is hit can be used to justify striking a child.”
Which other countries have banned smacking?
Wales would join the 54 countries around the world which have already banned the physical punishment of children. Sweden was the first to do so back in 1979, and is now joined by including Greece, Latvia, Albania, DR Congo and Kenya.
In the UK, US and Australia ‘reasonable chastisement’ is still allowed.
Viv Laing, head of policy at NSPCC Cymru, said: “It’s wrong that children in Wales have less protection from assault and that a legal defence which does not exist when an adult is hit can be used to justify striking a child.
“We have long campaigned for equal protection for children and we strongly believe a change in the law is a common-sense move. Closing this loophole brings Wales in line with dozens of countries across the world and is simply about fairness and equality for our children.”
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Professor Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said: “When a parent raises a hand to a defenceless child, whether that’s a smack, slap or another physically harmful behaviour, they have lost control.
“Research tells us that children who are physically punished are more likely to have poorer mental health and physical well-being and when they grow up, are more likely to engage in self-destructive or antisocial behaviour. Hurting a child isn’t acceptable and it is a form of child abuse.”
Felicity Gerry, a law lecturer at Charles Darwin University in Australia believes spanking, hitting or smacking a child should be outlawed.
“Slapping, spanking, smacking and hitting a child with a wooden paddle are forms of violence that would amount to assault if applied to an adult,” she told The Daily Telegraph.
Her comments come after last year it was revealed that smacking children in the UK could be banned if a UN inquiry ruled in favour of making the parenting practice illegal.
Additional reporting by PA.