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“Smacking is harmful to children’s mental health"

SMACKING BAN: The Association of Educational Psychologists says corporal punishment models aggressive behaviour in children (Image: Shutterstock)

THE ASSOCIATION of Educational Psychologists (AEP) is calling for a UK-wide ban on smacking children, which it says is “harmful to children’s mental health”.

The AEP will propose a motion at the Trades Union Congress in Manchester today (Wednesday 12th September) calling for a full ban on corporal punishment in the UK.

Addressing the annual TUC Congress, John Drewicz, member of the AEP’s national executive committee, will say: “Smacking is harmful to a child’s mental health, it models aggressive behaviour and it says to them that it is ok to use violence. There are many other more effective ways of teaching children right from wrong than by hitting them.

“Sixty countries already have full bans, including Sweden, Ireland, Spain, Germany and Portugal, and it is time to make violence against children illegal in the UK in all settings, including the home.”

Corporal punishment, which was initially banned in state schools in 1986, with a full ban in place in all schools in all parts of the UK by 2003, is still allowed in the home. A parent, or caregiver, can smack or otherwise physically hurt a child within the law as it currently stands if the punishment is “reasonable”.

Some legal experts say that even when there is physical evidence of severe punishment, it is almost impossible to prove that it is unreasonable. The legal test is whether the parents intent was reasonable, rather than the actual harm caused. The burden of proof is on the prosecution, and as this violence takes place behind closed doors it is hidden, gathering evidence is difficult and successful prosecutions are rare.

In a statement, the AEP said: “Large scale research has shown that when force is used by parents, there are changes in brain activity that lead to an escalation in the degree of force used. In a survey of parents, two in five admitted to having used a greater degree of force than intended.”

The AEP will tell the TUC that corporal punishment leads to a lower quality of the parent and child relationship, poorer mental health in childhood and adulthood, higher levels of aggression and anti-social behaviour and an increased risk of being a victim of physical abuse.

The motion, due to be seconded by the National Education Union, refers to initiatives in Scotland and Wales to ban smacking that have the support of the devolved governments.

In support of a ban, the AEP will cite the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was signed by the UK in 1990, and requires the prohibition of all corporal punishment in all settings. The AEP will also say that the Council of Europe has called on the UK to ban corporal punishment, and will refer to the work of the NSPCC, which campaigns for non-violent parenting.

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