Two-thirds of public believe it’s wrong to smack a child, study finds

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More than two-thirds of adults in England believe it is wrong for parents or carers to physically punish their child, a survey has found.

In a YouGov poll of nearly 3,000 adults commissioned by the NSPCC, 68% said they felt that physically disciplining a child, for example by smacking them, was unacceptable.

On Monday, Wales abolished “reasonable chastisement” as a defence for hitting children. The poll revealed that the public in England are largely in agreement with changing the law on the issue too, with 64% stating that the law should be changed so that children have the same legal protections against assault as adults.

The polling revealed that there was a lack of clarity about the law on physical punishment, with 58% thinking it was illegal to smack your child, while 20% knew it was still legal and 22% did not know either way.

The NSPCC said that last year more than 500 counselling sessions had been delivered by Childline where children and young people reporting being smacked or hit by parents and carers.

Some children reported that the physical punishment had become more severe as they got older.

“When I was younger and I misbehaved, my mum gave me a warning and put me on the naughty step. Then when I got to around 5-12 years old, it was a tap or a little smack,” a 16-year-old girl told Childline.

“But now it can be a proper smack or there was one occasion where she pulled my hair and I fell to the floor and she continuously hit me. I don’t want to get mum in trouble, but I can’t carry on being afraid of her,” she said.

University College London recently analysed 20 years of research on the topic alongside a team of international experts and concluded that any form of physical punishment was harmful to children and had no benefit.

The research showed that it did not improve children’s behaviour and, in fact, increased behavioural difficulties, such as aggression and anti-social behaviour.

Children who are physically punished are also at increased risk of being subjected to more severe violence, the research found.

The NSPCC is calling on the Government to follow Wales’ lead so that it is illegal to use a defence of “reasonable punishment” for hitting a child.

Sir Peter Wanless, chief executive of the NSPCC, said: “Today is a landmark moment for children in Wales. They are some of the most vulnerable members of our society and deserve more, not less, protection from violence than adults.”

“The NSPCC has long campaigned to remove this outdated defence and we are pleased that children in Wales, Scotland and Jersey now have equal protection from assault,” he said.

“Public attitudes to physical punishment are changing and the law needs to follow suit. Westminster now needs to follow its neighbours and tackle this legal anomaly.”

Dr Anja Heilmann, University College of London Department of Epidemiology and Public Health, said: “Having reviewed 20 years of research on physical punishment, we can unequivocally say that the evidence is clear: physical punishment is harmful to children’s development and wellbeing.”

“There is no evidence that it has any positive outcomes whatsoever. We also know that in countries where it is no longer legal, support for physical punishment has declined dramatically, and its use is much less common.”

“The legislative change coming into force in Wales today sends a clear signal that physically hurting children is never acceptable. Children in England deserve the same – we hope that the law reforms in Scotland and Wales will be a catalyst for change happening there too.”