By Callum Sloper
Wales looks set to become the first nation within the United Kingdom to ban parents from smacking their children. The Welsh Government has recently published a bill which would allow children the same legal protection as adults from physical punishment. Although the proposal is still only a bill, it’s likely to be passed by the Welsh Assembly who will soon vote on whether to make it into law or not. The bill would mean that parents would not be able to use the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ if charged with assault or battery against their children.
While the Welsh Government believes the bill will protect children, many people are sceptical about whether a ban would work or if it is even the right thing to do. A consultation carried out in 2018 found that the public are incredibly divided on the issue, with 50.3% of people believing the law would protect children’s rights while 48.1% disagreed with the idea. The Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services, Julie Morgan, believes that the bill will protect children’s dignity and rights, echoing the Welsh Government’s commitment to children’s rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Mandy Jones AM, who entered the Assembly as UKIP but now sits as an independent, shared her personal experience shortly after the bill’s announcement. Jones told the Assembly about how she was beaten regularly by her adoptive mother while her adoptive father would turn a blind eye to what was happening during her childhood. She explained how she had received numerous emails about the matter, with not even one supporting the bill. Regardless of her own personal experience of child abuse, Jones doesn’t support the Welsh Government’s bill, stating that: “This proposed ban will criminalise the mother, the father or the carer who is seeking to protect their child from danger or trying to draw boundaries.”
Many others agree with Jones’ belief that a ban on smacking won’t help those who are being abused and would agree with her statement that she does “not advocate physical chastisement. But I do advocate staying out of people’s living rooms and their lives.” The campaign group Be Reasonable also takes a similar stand on the issue, claiming that the First Minister ‘plans to turn good parents into criminals.’ Many of their arguments against the smacking ban are similar to that of Jones’, stating that it’s the parent’s business on whether they smack their children and not the state.
Other groups such as the NSPCC are advocating for the ban, claiming that it protects children from physical abuse and violence. The NSPCC also backed Scotland’s bid to outlaw smacking, when in 2017 Holyrood announced that they would look to ban the practice. The ban in Scotland is being supported by the Scottish Greens as well as Scottish Labour and the SNP, meaning that it will also most likely pass into law.
There is a mixed reception from the Welsh Conservative group and UKIP look set to vote against it. However ,with the Welsh Assembly being made up largely by Welsh Labour and Plaid Cymru, which both support the idea, the bill will almost certainly pass and become law.