Smacking and slapping children have been outlawed in Wales, with people told to contact social services or police if they see a parent or carer meting out physical punishment.
The law change, which came into force first thing on Monday, was hailed as “historic” by the Labour-led Welsh government and a number of child protection champions, who called for England to follow suit.
But critics, including the Welsh Conservatives, expressed concerns that it would criminalize parents trying to do their best and create a “Stasi culture” with people “shopping” their neighbors and even making malicious allegations.
The legislation that has come into force removes the defense of “reasonable punishment” that has been in force since Victorian times in England and Wales and makes all forms of physical punishment against children, such as smacking, hitting, slapping and shaking illegal. The law will apply to everyone in Wales, including visitors.
Julie Morgan, the deputy minister for social services, who has campaigned for the law change for more than two decades, said: “Today is a historic moment for children and their rights in Wales as we make physically punishing children a thing of the past. ”
Morgan rejected the notion the law would create a “Stasi culture”. She said: “We do n’t want people spying,” but she added: “Looking after children is the responsibility of the whole community.”
Morgan said attitudes had changed in recent years with few parents now using physical punishment. “The culture has started to change and I think this law will reinforce that,” she added.
She said she hoped England would follow the example of Wales and Scotland, which brought in a ban in November 2020. She said: “We’d love it to happen in England. We’re happy to work with people in England to push this forward.”
Viv Laing, the policy and public affairs manager at NSPCC Cymru Wales, said both England and Northern Ireland, where there has been no law change, were outliers.
She said: “In Wales, as in more than 60 countries around the world, we will no longer tolerate physical violence against children. Until now, children were the only group in our society who it was acceptable to strike in certain circumstances. We don’t allow the physical punishment of adults or animals, so it is absurd that we have for so long with children.”
The Welsh government’s website makes it clear that anyone who physically punishes a child will be breaking the law, risks being arrested or charged with assault and may get a criminal record.
In a Q&A section, the question “What should I do if I see a child being physically punished or if I am concerned about a child?” is posed. The answer is: “Contact your local social services department … You can also call the police in an emergency or if a child is in immediate danger.”
The government says the police and Crown Prosecution Service will apply two tests: there is evidence to charge and it is in the public interest to do so. They will also consider what is in the best interests of the child. It stresses that “rough and tumble” play is permitted.
The Welsh Conservative and shadow social services minister, Gareth Davies, said the law was “unnecessary, unworkable, and undesired” and had been pushed through by politicians who thought they knew better than parents.
He said: “I am very worried about campaigns that encourage a Stasi culture in Wales where people – and children – are encouraged to shop parents who discipline their children in what they deem a proportionate manner into the police.
“The Labor government in Cardiff Bay is clearly more interested in new age dogma rather than respecting parents.”
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism