Beware a hasty law on smacking;Leading Article;Opinion

28th May 1999 at 01:00
GOVERNMENTS get ahead of public opinion at their peril. Pressure to ban parents from physically chastising children comes, in part, from Europe, whose judicial system was instrumental more than a decade ago in outlawing corporal punishment in schools. It also gains support from well publicised court cases, such as that in Hamilton (page six) where a father has been convicted of assault on his eight-year-old daughter.

But the climate for an all-out ban on parental chastisement is not right. The law should not poke its nose into family living-rooms. There is no way of distinguishing a smack from a mild push, other than if a child bears the mark of what is clearly excessive punishment. In other words, redefining existing law to ensure that all smacking disappears is impossible. A few unfortunates (children as well as parents) would appear before the courts. Legislation widely disregarded is in no one's interests.

The Hamilton teacher clearly acted foolishly. There is nothing to suggest malice or brutality. Unless other compelling evidence is forthcoming from his professional life, the General Teaching Council would not be justified in adding to the family's troubles by removing their source of livelihood. And on the wider issue of parental powers, individual cases of unwise behaviour are not a good prompt for precipitate legislation.

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