Deputy Minister for Social Services, Julie Morgan, tells us what ending physical punishment means to her…
The rights of the child are at the heart of celebrations to mark World Children’s Day on 20 November. Wales will soon join over 60 countries around the world who have put children’s rights centre stage by outlawing the physical punishment of children. The law will change in Wales on 21 March 2022 with the removal of the archaic defence of reasonable punishment. It can’t come soon enough as far as I’m concerned.
I have campaigned for the abolition of the defence of reasonable punishment for more than 20 years, first in Westminster as an MP and, more recently, in Wales as a Member of the Senedd.
I’m a mother myself and a grandmother to 8 grandchildren. I was a social worker for 15 years before entering politics, and so in one way or another, I’ve always been involved in upholding children’s rights.
For as long as I can remember I have asked “How can it ever be right for a big person to hit a little person?” I have never understood why the law seems to condone this in any circumstances, allowing parents, or anyone acting in a parental capacity, to claim that physically punishing their children is “reasonable”.
The purpose of the law change is to help protect children’s rights. It builds on the Welsh Government’s commitment to children’s rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.
As a Government we want to respect children’s rights by giving children in Wales the same protection from assault as adults. The change in the law ensures parents and other adults acting in a parental capacity will no longer be allowed to physically punish children in Wales.
I do understand the nervousness some people may feel if they were smacked as a child, or smacked their own children – does this legislation mean they will be blamed or shamed for that? No. This legislation isn’t about judging what happened in the past. It was a different time, and there were different expectations. There is certainly more research and professional advice available for parents today.
There are positive alternatives to physical punishment to provide children with the guidance, boundaries and discipline they need, and we need to make sure parents have information and advice which will help them to use those alternatives rather than resort to physical punishment. The Parenting. Give it time campaign is a great place to start.
I am pleased children’s rights are being increasingly recognised internationally, and in particular so many countries have or are taking steps to end physical punishment. Sweden made physical punishment illegal over forty years ago now and Scotland just last year. When we look at countries that have similar legal systems to us, like Ireland, Malta and New Zealand, there’s no evidence that the police and social services have been overwhelmed after the law changed in their countries.
I know many individuals and organisations have campaigned for decades to see children given equal protection from assault as adults. I’m very glad it’s happening, offering hope and legal protection for future generations of children in Wales.
Times have changed. Attitudes have changed.
There is no place for physical punishment in a modern Wales.
Deputy Minister for Social Services
To find out more visit gov.wales/EndPhysicalPunishment.