Spanking Dictators

BY NOEL YAXLEY

If you want a case study in how to turn your country into an authoritarian  hellhole, may I suggest you start with Scotland: notably the Scottish National Party. Nicola Sturgeon’s tartan tyrants could no doubt write a masterful account of the subject, an excellent vade mecum for the would-be aspiring dictator —  although I’m sure they would find a reason to burn said book. Wales seems to be following in the footsteps of our censorious Celtic cousins north of the border. 

Next month, following Scotland, Wales will become the second region in the United Kingdom to ban smacking. When The Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Act 2020 comes into force on 21st March, anyone who witnesses a parent hitting their own children will be able to call the police and report them. 

The new law has removed the reasonable punishment/chastisement clause used throughout the rest of the U.K — now used in just England and Northern Ireland — which under section 58 of the Children Act 2004 allowed parents to use mild discipline such as a light smack on the legs or hands without the risk of being charged with assault. The bill which passed in the Senedd by a majority of 36 in favour to 14 against, now gives children the same level of legal protection from assault as adults.

Some see this as a victory for children’s rights and the end of ‘tough love’ parenting. Julie Morgan, deputy social services minister and one of the bill’s longtime supporters called the passing of the bill as a “historic day.”

The Welsh Labour Party member’s comments echo the position taken by the National Society for the Protection of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC). The NSPCC have persistently called for a total ban on smacking, arguing that it encourages bullying and could lead to children hiding their feelings or lying to avoid what is at most a mild-mannered form of discipline.

However, prior to the passing of the new act, legislation was already in place to protect children from violence. Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child gives children the right to be protected from abuse. Chastisement is not abuse. 

By effectively removing the defence of reasonable chastisement, any discipline meted out to the child, however innocuous, means ordinary parents may inadvertently fall foul of the law and risk prosecution. What if you have to physically restrain your child if they’re about to do something dangerous? Well, cross your fingers and hope you’re not going to be labelled a child abuser. Oh, and if you were thinking of applying for a job in a nursery? Forget it. The state will have the power to issue a community resolution order which will show up on an employer’s DBS check.

In spite of polling indicating that 76 percent of Welsh adults did not want smacking to become a criminal offence, Ms Morgan is adamant that it “is the right thing to do.”

But for many parents across Wales, it is further evidence of the state interfering with the private life of its citizens. By investigating and potentially prosecuting a mother or father for using a traditional method of discipline deemed acceptable for years, the ban will effectively turn loving and caring parents into criminals. 

There are plenty of sensible reasons why parental discipline should have nothing to do with the government. This new law conflates smacking with violence and current law already criminalises violence against children. In a tolerant and liberal society parents must be trusted to bring up their children in whatever way they see fit. If that means a mild slap across the hands or legs then so be it. It should not be the job of the state to decide how parents raise and discipline their children. 

No one, let alone me, wants to see a child severely beaten. But as always I fear whenever the government gets involved — albeit no doubt with the best of intentions — it’ll create more problems that it solves. This new law has the potential to overload the police and social workers with trivial cases taking precious time and resources away from investigating serious cases of child abuse. 

As a general rule parents don’t usually tend to derive some sadistic pleasure out of inflicting bodily harm on their offspring. They smack them because they love them and through an innate duty of care. Have you ever watched a toddler for more than sixty seconds? Naive, inattentive and curious, if you’re not careful they will post a piece of cake in your DVD player or stick a pencil in your cat’s arse. Young children are dependent human beings. As such they need guidance to learn what’s right and wrong.

The Welsh government expects about 38 prosecutions over the next five years. Lets see about that. Five year plans never go well.

Noel Yaxley is a writer based in Nelson’s county. After graduating in politics, he turned his attention to writing. Noel is primarily interested in covering issues around free speech and the latest lunacy in the culture wars. He writes regularly for The Critic magazine and contributes to a number of other outlets such as Reaction and Areo magazine.