Smacking - What Are The Rules?

Monday Jan 16, 2017 Children

With France having become the 52nd country in the world recently to have banned smacking and make it an offence, pressure is now mounting for the UK to follow suit.


As generations have developed so has the judgement on how one’s child should be disciplined as no longer do we live in a society where it is socially acceptable to give your child a ‘clip round the ear’ if they misbehave. Whilst in yester year parents would receive a sympathetic glance from their neighbours for having to deal with such insolence or disobedience, in 2017 this can easily result in a call from social services and the police for abuse.

So what are the rules as they stand now on smacking? Section 58 Children Act 2004 states that it is unlawful for a parent/carer to smack their child except for when this amounts to ‘reasonable punishment’. The difficulty with this is that ‘reasonable punishment’ is not defined, and in the multicultural country that we live in, what constitutes as ‘reasonable punishment’ to one, may not be the same for another. A basis however is that if a mark is left or instrument is used to smack or could be described as, beat, your child, then you are crossing the threshold to ‘unreasonable’.

As a parent who may have been found to unreasonably beat/smack their child, the parent can be charged under the following terms:

  1. Section 18 – 20 Offences Against the Persons Act 1861 [wounding and causing grievous bodily harm – GBH]
  2. Section 47 Offences Against the Persons Act 1861 [assault occasioning actual bodily harm – ABH]
  3. Section 1o Children and Young Persons Act 1933 [cruelty to persons under 16]

What is clearer is that it is a criminal offence for teachers, care workers or any other persons in such authority to smack another’s child. This will only be acceptable if considered reasonable and express permission from the parent/carer has been given to a privately employed care giver to the child.

With the UK being only one of four countries in Europe to not have made smacking a straight illegal offence pressure is now mounting as our counter parts grow ever closer to following suit with the rest of the EU. The UN marked its bid for the UK to join the movement in May 2016. The UN queried directly how Britain “intends to fulfil its obligation to remove all legal defenses for corporal punishment of children in the home and all other settings”. The response was that the Government provides “significant funding to support positive approaches and alternatives to smacking”. Since then, Wales has been considering more strongly than ever the ban, following the announcement that Welsh political leaders will have more of a say on parental rights, obligations and responsibilities. Notably this will provide a testing ground for England and Scotland to most likely follow suit just as has been expected and no doubt expected.