Wales

Smacking ban in Wales a step closer with bill published

Smacking child Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The UK Attorney General could intervene if he believes the bill exceeds the Welsh Government's powers

A ban on smacking children is a step closer after the Welsh Government published a bill removing "reasonable punishment" as a defence.

If passed by the assembly, it will be made law and children will have the same protection from physical punishment as adults.

It would mean a parent or guardian could not use the defence if accused of assault or battery against a child.

But campaigners argue it would criminalise ordinary parents.

"We are sending a clear message that the physical punishment of children is not acceptable in Wales," said Deputy Minister for Health and Social Services Julie Morgan.

"What may have been deemed as appropriate in the past is no longer acceptable. Our children must feel safe and be treated with dignity."

The Welsh Government said publication of the bill on Monday builds on its commitment to children's rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

But a consultation it conducted last year found opinion was divided.

Of 1,738 people and organisations who responded, 50.3% thought it would protect children's rights but 48.1% thought it would not.

The Welsh Government believes it will change a culture of physical punishment, with Mrs Morgan saying more than 50 countries have already responded to the call for this.

Unicef UK's executive director Mike Penrose said children have the right to be protected from all forms of harm but "unfortunately, this is still not the case".

"We're delighted that they (the Welsh Government) are listening to the voices of children and young people on this important issue, which will help to create a safer and fairer society for all its children and young people," he added.

Prof Russell Viner, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said it was time to change the law.

"When a parent raises a hand to a defenceless child - whether that's a smack, slap or another physically harmful behaviour - they have lost control," he said.

AMs will debate the bill in the Welsh Assembly before deciding whether to pass it.

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Media captionWe spoke to two parents in Cardiff with different views

At a soft play centre in Cardiff, mother-of-five Natalie Woodley said: "I don't think children should be smacked - I don't think there are any mitigating circumstances. In a modern society there are more effective ways to punish children, should they need it."

But another parent Sally Gobbett said there was no evidence that "light, infrequent, calm, loving physical discipline" was linked to negative outcomes in children and said the legislation could unjustly criminalise loving parents.

Do AMs have the powers to do this?

By David Deans, BBC Wales political reporter

Normally the National Assembly does not make laws on matters of criminal justice in Wales.

But on things that they control, AMs can pass new offences into law.

And a smacking ban is indeed the gift of the Cardiff Bay parliament - all thanks to changes passed in 2017.

The UK government gave-up the power in Wales during negotiations over the last Wales Act - one of a number of concessions it made.

Given that at the time it was not guaranteed the law - a legal re-write of Wales' constitution - was going to get the approval of the assembly, the gesture may have helped gain Labour's approval.

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