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Family Law

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31 MAR 2014

Banning the physical punishment of children in the UK: a human rights imperative for children

Dr Raymond Arthur, Reader in Law, Faculty of Business andLaw, Northumbria University:

Recently the Children's Commissioner for England, Maggie Atkinson, has expressed her view that the law should ban parents from smacking their children. Physical punishment of children is the only physical assault tolerated under current UK law as the law on assault and cruelty is qualified by the common law defence of reasonable chastisement.

This article will consider the scope of the defence of reasonable chastisement and assess whether it is providing appropriate protection of children's human rights in twenty-first century Britain. This article will argue that the position in the UK is increasingly at odds with its European neighbours, 24 of whom have abolished parents' right to use any forms of physical punishment. The article will highlight that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, the UN Human Rights Committee and the European Committee on Social Rights have all argued that the physical punishment of children should be banned with no defence available to parents. The article will conclude that it is hypocritical of our society to protest against child abuse while its laws continue to licence the beating of children in the name of reasonable chastisement.   

The full version of this article appears in the April 2014 issue of Family Law.

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