Today is a historic day for children’s rights here in Wales and a day which I have waited a long time to see. It may have taken over 20 years of campaigning to make the physical punishment of children illegal, but the day has finally arrived and I couldn’t be happier.
From today, the defence of reasonable punishment is no more. This archaic 160-year-old legal defence is confined to the history books. No one will be able to use this defence should they have been found to physically punish a child.
Children now have the same protection from assault as adults, making the law easier for everyone – children, parents and professionals – to understand.
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?”. It never made sense to me and I never understood why the law seemed to condone this in any circumstance. As a mother and now grandmother to 8 grandchildren, I know caring for children isn’t always easy. However, the thought of hitting a child was something I could never consider as justifiable.
Sometimes it’s tricky getting children to do the things you need them to do – getting dressed maybe, and you have to do so against their will, on occasion, to keep them warm, to enable them to go outside and so on. The change in law does not prevent any of these activities – it only ends the use of physical punishment, like smacking.
And to be clear, any physical interventions to keep children safe from harm is not physical punishment. Holding a child back from running into a road or restraining a child to keep them from injuring themselves or others, or stopping them putting their hand into a fire or onto a hot surface is good parenting, it’s not punishment.
It’s important to note that discipline and physical punishment are not one and the same. Every child needs discipline; it’s about providing a child with boundaries, guidance and support as they learn appropriate behaviour. Physical punishment should however not be a feature of discipline.
We now know physical punishment can have negative long-term impacts on a child’s life chances, it’s not effective in improving children’s behaviour and it doesn’t help children learn about self-control or appropriate behaviour.
If you are wondering how to discipline a child without resorting to physical punishment then there’s so much support available. A great place to startisParenting. Give it time. It offers practical hints, tips and expert advice about positive ways to encourage good behaviour as well as alternatives to physical punishment. There’s also a page for parents providing links to further support and helplines.
Parenting information, advice and support is available from local authorities, midwives, health visitors, GPs and by many third sector organisations. Support is also available through our Families First programme, and also Flying Start (if you are the parent of a young child in a Flying Start area).
Today is a good day for children and for children’s rights. It’s a day where we can draw a line under the past and make clear that no violence is ever acceptable. Today is a good day for Wales.
Deputy Minister for Social Services
To find out more visit gov.wales/endphysicalpunishment