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Protecting or punishing children: physical punishment, human rights and English law reform
journal contributionposted on 2023-06-07, 19:32 authored by Heather Keating
This paper assesses the current state of English criminal law in relation to the use of physical force by parents as a means of disciplining their children. It does so in the light of the Children Act 2004, the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms 1950, Art 3, pressure from bodies such as the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and the law in other parts of Europe. It acknowledges that parents should have a large degree of autonomy in relation to parenting. However, the defence of `discipline¿ or `reasonable chastisement' is outdated, vague and potentially dangerous to children. It is argued that the response of the British Government to criticism of our law has been far from satisfactory. The reform which was incorporated into the Children Act 2004 as a result of pressure upon the government aims to avoid criminalising `ordinary families¿ for minor smacks. However, the statement of principle is so diluted that parents might understandably be confused and enforcement may be difficult. Moreover, the pressure for reform has continued unabated. The paper concludes that what is needed is an outright ban, combined with an educational campaign, which can lead the way in changing the cultural tradition of physical punishment.
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