SWU speaks at House of Lords: Equal Protection of Children Against Assault working group meeting

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Wales has implemented new laws on ending the physical punishment of children, and England needs to enact similar legislative changes

The Social Workers Union (SWU) was represented at the working group meeting on 21st June 2022 at the House of Lords by John McGowan, SWU General Secretary who was also one of the main speakers. Other speakers included Professor Baroness Llora Finlay, Peer Julie Morgan – Welsh Deputy Minister for Social Services, Dewi Rowland Hughes – Welsh President of the Association of Educational Psychologists, and Rowena Christmas – Chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners Cymru Wales.  

The Equal Protection of Children Against Assault working group was created to raise awareness of the implementation of a legal ban against violence against children, also known as the “smacking” ban. The meeting was attended by a wide range of politicians and organisations.

The primary purpose of the event was to celebrate and hear about the implementation of new laws in Wales on ending the physical punishment of children, and how effective these have been since the implementation of such laws three months ago. It also explored the need for England to have similar legislative changes.

Research shows that corporal punishment:

  • Is harmful to a child’s mental health
  • Models aggressive behaviour and is not effective in behaviour management
  • Frequently leads to a lower quality of the parent and child relationship
  • Leads to an increased risk of being a victim of physical abuse

Why the issue matters

  • We believe that children should be protected by the law from violence. Corporal punishment was banned in state schools in England in 1986. Restrictions on corporal punishment by a parent or caregiver were introduced in 2004, Section 58 of the Children Act but a defence of “reasonable punishment” is still available in the law.
  • A recent major review of the evidence on physical punishment by Barnardo’s, the NSPCC, and other organisations concluded: “There is strong and consistent evidence from good-quality research that physical punishment is associated with increased childhood aggression and antisocial behaviour.”
  • England’s law is behind the times and out of step with other countries. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was signed by the UK in 1990, requires the prohibition of all corporal punishment in all settings because it is a breach of children’s right to protection from assault. Sixty countries already have full bans.

Scotland and Wales have both recently legislated to ban the physical punishment of children, and the Northern Ireland Assembly is considering the same issue.

  • The intention of the law is not to criminalise parents. Those opposed to a ban, including the current government, say it would criminalise parents. The intention of legal change is not to criminalise parents but to help redefine what is acceptable in how we treat our children – and each other – and what we teach them through our own behaviour.
  • Parliament is long overdue a discussion on Ending Physical Punishment of children; the issue has only been discussed in parliament a handful of times over the past 5 years.

The working group believes that “there are many other more effective ways of teaching children right from wrong than by hitting them. More than 50 countries already have full bans, including Sweden, Ireland, Spain, Germany and Portugal, and it is time to make violence against children illegal in the UK in all settings, including the home. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was signed by the UK in 1990, and requires the prohibition of all corporal punishment in all settings. This is a welcome change in Scotland and the AEP will continue to campaign for it to be banned in the whole of the UK.”

Speaking about the proposed legislation changes in England, SWU General Secretary John McGowan said, “Physical punishment has no place in 21st century England. The international evidence tells us that it can have serious impacts on children, and that it is not effective.

“England will be joining more than 50 other countries around the world in taking measures to protect the most vulnerable members of society. England is already an outlier in Europe, where most countries have legislated against corporal punishment in line with Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, with its call for equal protection from assault.”

Listen to “The Case for Banning Smacking”

Podcast host Andy McClenaghan is joined by Baroness Joan Walmsley – Co-Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrats in the House of Lords, Kate Fallon – General Secretary of the Association of Educational Psychologists, and John McGowan – General Secretary of the Social Workers Union in “The Case for Banning Smacking” episode of Let’s Talk Social Work. They discuss what the law says about the corporal punishment of children, the impacts it has, and efforts being pursued to ban smacking in England. They also explore recent changes to the legal landscape in Scotland and Wales, the situation globally, and how a smacking ban would affect social workers.