Prohibition is still to be achieved in the home, some alternative care settings, day care and penal institutions.
Legal defences for the use of corporal punishment are found in section 58 of the Children Act 2004 in England and Wales, article 2 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006, and section 51 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003. These provisions must be explicitly repealed and prohibition enacted of all corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment, in the home and all other settings where adults have authority over children.
Alternative care settings – Corporal punishment is prohibited by law in residential care institutions and in foster care arranged by local authorities and by voluntary organisations. Prohibition should now be enacted in relation to private foster care.
Day care – Corporal punishment is prohibited by law in day care institutions and childminding in England, Wales and Scotland. Legislation should be adopted prohibiting corporal punishment in institutions and childminding in Northern Ireland.
Schools – Corporal punishment is prohibited in all state and private schools, but it has yet to be enacted in relation to some unregistered independent settings providing part-time education.
Penal institutions – While corporal punishment is regarded as unlawful, the use of force (in the guise of physical restraint) is lawful in maintaining order and discipline in secure training centres. The Rules authorising this should be repealed.
Corporal punishment is lawful in the home. In England and Wales, section 58 of the Children Act 2004 provides for “reasonable punishment” of children. In Northern Ireland, article 2 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 provides for “reasonable punishment”. In Scotland, “justifiable assault” of children is lawful under section 51 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003, defining blows to the head, shaking and use of implements as unjustifiable.
In rejecting the recommendations of the Universal Periodic Review in 2008, the Government stated that it sees no need for law reform since it believes the current law is working well, parents should be allowed to discipline children and surveys show that the use of corporal punishment in childrearing has declined. Following its second Universal Periodic Review in 2012, the Government again rejected recommendations to prohibit corporal punishment, defending its legality in the home and stating that it did not consider that this constituted a breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Reporting to the Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2014, the Government stated that it “does not condone any violence towards children” but also that “our view is that a mild smack does not constitute violence”. A similar statement was made to the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights in 2014 and to the Human Rights Committee in 2015. In 2017, the Government rejected seven recommendations on corporal punishment it had received during its Universal Periodic Review, referring to the same argument.
However, changes in the charging standards introduced by the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) have meant that in England and Wales the law now allows parents to raise the defence of “reasonable punishment” for bruises, cuts or weals (under section 58 of the Children Act 2004), and not only for a “mild smack”. Section 58 was originally introduced to remedy A v UK, the 1998 European Court of Human Rights decision which found the UK in breach of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms after a man was acquitted for caning his stepson, causing bruising and weals. The reformed law provided that parents and others acting in loco parentis could only raise the defence of “reasonable punishment” in cases of common assaults on children. The previous CPS charging standards specifically advised that where the victim was a child or a vulnerable adult the threshold for defining common assault would be changed, so that “other than reddening of the skin, the charge will normally be assault occasioning actual bodily harm [ABH].” But in 2011, without any publicity, the CPS altered its charging standard on common assault, removing “reddening the skin” as the upper threshold for a charge of common assault on a child and reverting to a threshold of “serious” injuries. The CPS held a consultation on the revision of the Charging Standard in July 2017 and stated it would publish the revised Standard “later this year ”.
Successive Governments in Wales have since 2002 committed to removing the “reasonable punishment” defence and prohibiting all corporal punishment but initially lacked the power to do so. However, following an extension of devolution, the National Assembly of Wales has the power to remove the defence and in October 2011 voted to encourage the Government to introduce the necessary legislation. An amendment to the Violence Against Women, Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence Bill that would have achieved prohibition was defeated in the National Assembly in 2015. The Assembly had voted to establish a Committee to consider how the repeal of the defence of “reasonable chastisement” could be implemented but it was never operational. During his speech to the new Welsh Assembly on 18 May 2016, First Minister Carwyn Jones announced that legislation which would “remove the defence of reasonable punishment” would be taken forward on a cross-party basis. On 27 June 2017, it was announced that a consultation on the removal of the defence would be launched in the coming 12 months with the aim to introduce legislation in 2018. In November 2017, the Children’s Minister re-affirmed the Government's intention to prohibit all corporal punishment. A consultation on the proposed removal of the “reasonable chastisement” defence opened in January 2018 and will run until 2 April 2018.
The Scottish Human Rights Commission recommended in September 2016 that the Scottish Government abolish corporal punishment. A consultation ran in Scotland on the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) Bill between May and August 2017, with the Bill aiming to repeal the legal defence of “justifiable assault” and ensuring that children are equally protected from assault in law. In October 2017, both the SNP Government and the Scottish Labour party expressed their support for the Bill. By 26 October 2017, the Bill had been formally endorsed to be introduced to Parliament.
Alternative care settings
Corporal punishment is prohibited by regulation in residential care institutions throughout the UK (Children’s Homes Regulation Act 2001; Residential Establishments Child Care (Scotland) Regulations 1996). Residential care workers have been prohibited from smacking since 1991 (Children’s Homes Regulations 1991, SI 1991/1506, reg. 8). It is prohibited in foster care arranged by local authorities or voluntary organisations but is lawful in private foster care.
Corporal punishment is prohibited in day care institutions and childminding by regulations issued in 2002 for Wales and Scotland and in 2003 for England (Day Care and Child Minding (National Standards) (England) Regulations 2003, SI 2003/1996). Guidance states that physical punishment should not be used in day care institutions and childminding in Northern Ireland, but there is no explicit prohibition in law.
Corporal punishment was prohibited in all state-supported education in 1986. The prohibition was extended to cover private schools in England and Wales in 1998, in Scotland in 2000, and in Northern Ireland in 2003. But in 2014 the Government confirmed that legislation does not prohibit corporal punishment in “unregistered independent settings providing part-time education”. The Government reported in 2017 that, with regard to “settings where children receive some form of education/training, but which are not ‘schools’”, a call for evidence on “a range of issues relating to such settings” had been conducted in 2015-2016.
Corporal punishment is regarded as unlawful as a disciplinary measure in penal institutions, but there is no explicit prohibition. In secure training centres (privately-run centres for young offenders), the Secure Training Centre Rules 1998 (as amended in 2007) allow for the use of force (in the name of physical restraint) in maintaining order and discipline, including the infliction of physical pain (nose, rib and thumb “distractions”). The Rules were declared unlawful by the Court of Appeal in July 2008 but they have yet to be repealed.
Sentence for crime
Corporal punishment is unlawful as a sentence for crime. There is no provision for judicial corporal punishment in criminal law.
Universal Periodic Review of the UK’s human rights record
The UK was examined in the first cycle of the Universal Periodic Review in 2008 (session 1). The following recommendations were made:
“To consider further measures in order to address the problem of violence against children, including corporal punishment. (Italy)
“To reconsider its position about the continued legality of corporal punishment against children. (Sweden)
“To consider going beyond current legislation and to ban corporal punishment, also in the private sector and in its Overseas Territories. (France)”
The Government rejected the recommendations, stating that it sees no need for law reform since it believes the current law is working well, parents should be allowed to discipline children and surveys show that the use of corporal punishment in childrearing has declined. It accepted the recognition to consider going beyond current legislation in relation to protecting children from violence but rejected “the implication that it is failing in this regard through the application of its policy on corporal punishment”.
The mid-term report, dated March 2010, repeats this assertion and draws attention to the prohibition of corporal punishment in education and care settings and to the review being undertaken of corporal punishment in some education settings which fall outside of the legal framework. The report refers to previous law reforms which limited the application of the “reasonable punishment” defence so that it can no longer be relied upon in cases of assault occasioning cruelty or actual or grievous bodily harm. However, it then attempts to defend the continued legality of a certain degree of physical punishment in childrearing, stating that the Government “does not condone” physical punishment but “does not want to criminalise decent parents who decide to administer a mild smack”: the Government considers the promotion of positive discipline techniques to be sufficient to address the issue.
Examination in the second cycle of the UPR took place in 2012 (session 13). The following recommendations were made:
“Reconsider its position about the continued legality of corporal punishment of children (Sweden);
“Take measures to ensure the freedom of children from physical punishment in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child (Norway);
“Introduce a ban on all corporal punishment of children as recommended by the CRC and other treaty bodies (Finland)”
The Government rejected the recommendations, stating: “… The law in the UK only permits physical punishment of children in very limited circumstances. Corporal punishment is unlawful in state and full-time independent schools, in nursery and childminding settings, children’s homes and secure establishments…. The UK Government does not accept that it is in breach of the UNCRC with regard to physical punishment; and believe [sic] that UK is compliant with Articles 19 and 37 in relation to abuse and violence towards children.” The UK’s 2014 mid-term report reiterates this, stating that “parents should not be criminalised for giving a mild smack to their child”.
The UK’s third cycle examination took place in 2017 (session 27). The following recommendations were made:
“In all devolved administrations, overseas territories and Crown dependencies, prohibit all corporal punishment in the family, including through the repeal of all legal defences, such as “reasonable chastisement” (Liechtenstein);
“Ensure that corporal punishment is explicitly prohibited in all schools and educational institutions and all other institutions and forms of alternative care (Liechtenstein);
“Prohibit corporal punishment in all settings, including the family (Ireland);
“Reconsider its position on the legality of corporal punishment of children (Mongolia);
“Ban corporal punishment of children to ensure the full protection and freedom from violence for all children (Sweden);
“Consider prohibiting corporal punishment against children and ensure that it is explicitly prohibited in all schools and educational institutions, and all other institutions and forms of alternative care (Croatia);
“Take further actions in protecting the rights of the child by prohibiting all corporal punishment of children as required by the convention of the Rights of Child (Estonia)”
The Government rejected all seven recommendations, stating: “the UK does not condone any violence towards children and has clear laws to deal with it. The ‘reasonable chastisement’ defence in s.58 Children Act 2004 cannot be used when someone is charged with assault causing actual or grievous bodily harm, or with child cruelty. Parents should not be criminalised for giving a child a mild smack in order to control their behaviour.”
Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations
Session 072 (2016)
(3 June 2016, CRC/C/GBR/CO/5, Concluding observations on fifth report, paras. 38, 39 and 40)
"The Committee is concerned about: …
c) the use of physical restraint on children to maintain good order and discipline in Young Offenders’ Institutions and the use of pain-inducing techniques on children in institutional settings in England, Wales and Scotland, and the lack of a comprehensive review of the use of restraint in institutional settings in Northern Ireland;
d) The use of restraint and seclusion on children with psycho-social disabilities, including children with autism, in schools.
"With reference to the Committee’s general comment No. 13 (2011) on the right of the child to freedom from all forms of violence and Sustainable Development Goal 16, Target 16.2, the Committee urges the State party to:
a) prohibit the use of electrical discharge weapons, such as Taser guns, AEPs (Northern Ireland) and any other harmful devices on children and systematically collect and publish age disaggregated data on their use in order to monitor the implementation of such prohibition;
b) abolish all methods of restraint against children for disciplinary purposes in all institutional settings, both residential and non-residential, and ban the use of any technique designed to inflict pain on children;
c) ensure that restraint is used against children exclusively to prevent harm to the child or others and only as a last resort;
d) systematically and regularly collect and publish disaggregated data on the use of restraint and other restrictive interventions on children in order to monitor the appropriateness of discipline and behaviour management for children in all settings, including in education, custody, mental health, welfare and immigration settings.
"With reference to its general comment No. 8 and its previous recommendations, the Committee urges the State party, in all devolved administrations, Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies, to:
a) prohibit as a matter of priority all corporal punishment in the family, including through the repeal of all legal defences, such as “reasonable chastisement”;
b) ensure that corporal punishment is explicitly prohibited in all schools and educational institutions and all other institutions and forms of alternative care;
c) strengthen its efforts to promote positive and non-violent forms of discipline and respect for children’s equal right to human dignity and physical integrity, with a view to eliminating the general acceptance of the use of corporal punishment in child-rearing."Read more from Session 072 (2016)
Session 049 (2008)
(20 October 2008, CRC/C/GBR/CO/4, Concluding observations on third/fourth report, paras. 40, 41 and 42)
"The Committee, while noting amendments to legislation in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which restrict the application of the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’, is concerned that this defence has not been removed. The Committee welcomes the commitment of the National Assembly in Wales to prohibiting all corporal punishment in the home, but notes that under the terms of devolution it is not possible for the Assembly to enact the necessary legislation. The Committee is concerned at the failure of State party to explicitly prohibit all corporal punishment in the home and emphasizes its view that the existence of any defence in cases of corporal punishment of children does not comply with the principles and provisions of the Convention, since it would suggest that some forms of corporal punishment are acceptable.
"The Committee is further concerned that corporal punishment is lawful in the home, schools and alternative care settings in virtually all overseas territories and crown dependencies.
"The Committee, reiterating its previous recommendations (CRC/C/15/Add.188, para. 35), in the light of its general comment No. 8 on ‘the right of the child to protection from corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment’, as well as noting similar recommendations made by the Human Rights Committee; the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; and the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, recommends that the State party:
a) prohibit as a matter of priority all corporal punishment in the family, including through the repeal of all legal defences, in England and Wales, Scotland, and Northern Ireland, and in all Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies;
b) ensure that corporal punishment is explicitly prohibited in schools and all other institutions and forms of alternative care throughout the United Kingdom and in the overseas territories and crown dependencies;
c) actively promote positive and non-violent forms of discipline and respect for children’s equal right to human dignity and physical integrity, with a view to raising public awareness of children’s right to protection from all corporal punishment and to decreasing public acceptance of its use in childrearing;
d) provide parental education and professional training in positive child-rearing.”"Read more from Session 049 (2008)
Session 031 (2002)
(9 October 2002, CRC/C/15/Add.188, Concluding observations on second report, paras. 8, 9, 35, 36, 37 and 38)
"While noting the entry into force of the Human Rights Act 1998, which incorporates the rights enshrined in the European Convention on Human Rights into domestic law, the Committee is concerned that the provisions and principles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child – which are much broader than those contained in the European Convention – have not yet been incorporated into domestic law, nor is there any formal process to ensure that new legislation fully complies with the Convention. The Committee notes that the devolved administrations have introduced some legal reforms to ensure compatibility with the Convention such as ensuring that the education system in Scotland complies with article 12 and that corporal punishment in the day-care system in Wales is prohibited, but remains concerned that the State party does not ensure that its legislation is compatible with the Convention throughout its territory.
"The Committee encourages the State party to incorporate into domestic law the rights, principles and provisions of the Convention in order to ensure that all legislation complies with the Convention and that the provisions and principles of the Convention are widely applied in legal and administrative proceedings. The State party is also encouraged to provide training in the provisions of the Convention and to disseminate the Convention more widely.
"The Committee welcomes the abolition of corporal punishment in all schools in England, Wales and Scotland following its 1995 recommendations (ibid., para. 32) but is concerned that this abolition has not yet been extended to cover all private schools in Northern Ireland. It welcomes the adoption by the National Assembly for Wales of regulations prohibiting corporal punishment in all forms of day care, including childminding, but is very concerned that legislation prohibiting all corporal punishment in this context is not yet in place in England, Scotland or Northern Ireland.
"In light of its previous recommendation (ibid., para. 31), the Committee deeply regrets that the State party persists in retaining the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ and has taken no significant action towards prohibiting all corporal punishment of children in the family.
"The Committee is of the opinion that the Government’s proposals to limit rather than to remove the ‘reasonable chastisement’ defence do not comply with the principles and provisions of the Convention and the aforementioned recommendations, particularly since they constitute a serious violation of the dignity of the child (see similar observations of the of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, E/C.12/1/Add.79, para. 36). Moreover, they suggest that some forms of corporal punishment are acceptable, thereby undermining educational measures to promote positive and non-violent discipline.
"The Committee recommends that the State party:
a) with urgency adopt legislation throughout the State party to remove the ‘reasonable chastisement’ defence and prohibit all corporal punishment in the family and in any other contexts not covered by existing legislation;
b) promote positive, participatory and non-violent forms of discipline and respect for children’s equal right to human dignity and physical integrity, involving children and parents and all those who work with and for them, and carry out public education programmes on the negative consequences of corporal punishment."Read more from Session 031 (2002)
Session 008 (1995)
(15 February 1995, CRC/C/15/Add.34, Concluding observations on initial report, paras. 16, 31 and 32)
"The Committee is disturbed about the reports it has received on the physical and sexual abuse of children. In this connection, the Committee is worried about the national legal provisions dealing with reasonable chastisement within the family. The imprecise nature of the expression of reasonable chastisement as contained in these legal provisions may pave the way for it to be interpreted in a subjective and arbitrary manner. Thus, the Committee is concerned that legislative and other measures relating to the physical integrity of children do not appear to be compatible with the provisions and principles of the Convention, including those of its articles 3, 19 and 37. The Committee is equally concerned that privately funded and managed schools are still permitted to administer corporal punishment to children in attendance there which does not appear to be compatible with the provisions of the Convention, including those of its article 28, paragraph 2...."
"The Committee is also of the opinion that additional efforts are required to overcome the problem of violence in society. The Committee recommends that physical punishment of children in families be prohibited in the light of the provisions set out in articles 3 and 19 of the Convention. In connection with the child’s right to physical integrity, as recognized by the Convention, namely in its articles 19, 28, 29 and 37, and in the light of the best interests of the child, the Committee suggests that the State party consider the possibility of undertaking additional education campaigns. Such measures would help to change societal attitudes towards the use of physical punishment in the family and foster the acceptance of the legal prohibition of the physical punishment of children.
"… Legislative measures are recommended to prohibit the use of corporal punishment in privately funded and managed schools."Read more from Session 008 (1995)
Committee Against Torture, Concluding Observations
CAT session 050 (2013)
(24 June 2013, CAT/C/GBR/CO/5, Concluding observations on fifth report, para. 29)
"The Committee takes note of amendments to legislation in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which limit the application of the defence of “reasonable punishment” (or “justifiable assault” in Scotland), but remains concerned that some forms of corporal punishment are still legally permissible in the home by parents and those in loco parentis. In addition, it is concerned that some forms of corporal punishment are lawful in the home, schools and alternative care settings in almost all overseas territories and Crown dependencies.
The Committee recommends that the State party prohibits corporal punishment of children in all settings in the Metropolitan territory, Crown dependencies and overseas territories, repealing all legal defences currently in place, and further promote positive non-violent forms of discipline via public campaigns as an alternative to corporal punishment."Read more from CAT session 050 (2013)
CAT session 021 (1998)
(17 November 1998, A/54/44, Concluding observations on third report, para. 74)
d) the removal of corporal punishment as a penalty in several of the Dependent Territories."Read more from CAT session 021 (1998)
CAT session 015 (1995)
(9 July 1996, A/51/44, Concluding observations on second report, para. 65)
"The Committee recommends that the Government of the United Kingdom take the following measures:
i) reconsidering corporal punishment with a view to determining if it should be abolished in those dependencies that still retain it."Read more from CAT session 015 (1995)
CAT session 009 (1992)
(26 June 1993, A/48/44, Concluding observations on initial report, para. 283)
"… The territories appeared to be governed in accordance with the obligations on the Convention and the Committee congratulated the Government of the United Kingdom in this respect. The Committee was, however, interested in receiving more detail pertaining to cases of corporal punishment in the territories retaining it. The nature and incidence of such punishment, together with details of the crime and the characteristics of the offender, should be forwarded to the Committee when the information is gathered…."Read more from CAT session 009 (1992)
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, Concluding Observations
CEDAW session 055 (2013)
(30 July 2013, CEDAW/C/GBR/CO/7, Concluding observations on seventh report, paras. 34 and 35)
"The Committee ... recalls its previous concluding observations (A/63/38, paras. 280 and 281) and is concerned that corporal punishment remains lawful in the home.
"Recalling its general recommendation No. 19, on violence against women, and its previous recommendation, the Committee urges the State party: ...
e) to revise its legislation to prohibit corporal punishment of children in the home."Read more from CEDAW session 055 (2013)
CEDAW session 041 (2008)
(18 July 2008, Part of A/63/38, Concluding observations on fifth/sixth report, paras. 280 and 281)
"... The Committee also notes with concern that corporal punishment is lawful in the home and constitutes a form of violence against children, including the girl child.
"The Committee urges the State party to accord priority attention to the adoption of comprehensive measures to address violence against women in accordance with its general recommendation No. 19 on violence against women.... The Committee further recommends that the State party include in its legislation the prohibition of corporal punishment of children in the home."Read more from CEDAW session 041 (2008)
Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, Concluding Observations
CESCR session 042 (2009)
(12 June 2009, E/C.12/GBR/CO/5, Concluding observations on fourth/fifth report, para. 24)
"The Committee … also remains concerned that corporal punishment of children in the home is not yet prohibited by law.
The Committee … reiterates its recommendation that physical punishment of children in the home be prohibited by law."Read more from CESCR session 042 (2009)
CESCR session 028 (2002)
(5 June 2002, E/C.12/1/Add.79, Concluding observations on fourth report, para. 36)
"Given the principle of the dignity of the individual, which provides the foundation for international human rights law (see paragraph 41 of the Committee's General Comment No. 13) and in the light of article 10.1 and 10.3 of the Covenant, the Committee recommends that the physical punishment of children in families be prohibited, in line with the recommendation of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (see paragraph 31 of the 1995 concluding observations of that Committee (CRC/C/15/Add.34))."Read more from CESCR session 028 (2002)
CESCR session 017 (1997)
(4 December 1997, CESCR/E/C.12/1/Add.19, Concluding observations on third report, paras. 16 and 28)
"The Committee is alarmed by the fact that corporal punishment continues to be practised in schools which are privately financed, and at the statement by the delegation that the Government does not intend to eliminate this practice.
"The Committee recommends that the State party take appropriate measures to eliminate corporal punishment in those schools in which this practice is still permitted, i.e. privately financed schools."Read more from CESCR session 017 (1997)
Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations
HRC session 114 (2015)
([July 2015], CCPR/C/GBR/CO/7 Advance Unedited Version, Concluding observations on seventh report, para. 20)
"The Committee remains concerned that corporal punishment is still not fully outlawed in the home and certain educational and alternative care facilities in the United Kingdom and in almost all British Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories. It is further concerned about the lack of explicit prohibition of corporal punishment in the home and the existing legal defences of 'reasonable punishment' in England, Wales and Northern Ireland or 'justifiable assault' in Scotland (arts. 7 and 24).
The State party should take practical steps, including through legislative measures where appropriate, to put an end to corporal punishment in all settings, including the home, throughout United Kingdom and all Crown Dependencies and Overseas Territories, and repeal all existing legal defences across the State party’s jurisdiction. It should encourage non-violent forms of discipline as alternatives to corporal punishment, and conduct public information campaigns to raise awareness about its harmful effects."Read more from HRC session 114 (2015)
HRC session 093 (2008)
(30 July 2008, CCPR/C/GBR/CO/6, Concluding observations on sixth report, para. 27)
"The Committee notes with concern that corporal punishment of children is not prohibited in schools in Bermuda, the British Virgin Islands, Gibraltar, Montserrat and the Crown Dependencies. (arts. 7 and 24)
The State party should expressly prohibit corporal punishment of children in all schools in all British Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies."Read more from HRC session 093 (2008)
HRC session 054 (1995)
(27 July 1995, CCPR/C/79/Add.55, Concluding observations on fourth report, para. 8)
"The Committee recommends that corporal punishment administered to privately funded pupils in independent schools be abolished."Read more from HRC session 054 (1995)
European Committee of Social Rights, Concluding Observations
(January 2016, Conclusions 2015)
“In its previous conclusion (Conclusions 2011) the Committee found that the situation was not in conformity with the Charter as not all forms of corporal punishment were explicitly prohibited in the home.
“According to the report, the Government’s position is unchanged. The Government takes the view that it should not be a crime for parents to give their children a mild smack. The law in Northern Ireland on the physical punishment of children is based on the concept of ‘reasonable chastisement’. If a parent or adult smacks a child and is prosecuted, they can defend themselves in terms of reasonable chastisement but only if the harm is minor.
“In interpreting Article 17 of the Charter, the Committee has held that the prohibition of any form of corporal punishment of children is an important measure that avoids discussions and concerns as to where the borderline would be between what might be acceptable form of corporal punishment and what is not (General Introduction to Conclusions XV-2). The Committee recalls its interpretation of Article 17 of the Charter as regards the corporal punishment of children laid down most recently in its decision in World Organisation against Torture (OMCT) v. Portugal (Complaint No. 34/2006, decision on the merits of 5 December 2006; §§19-21):
“To comply with Article 17, states’ domestic law must prohibit and penalize all forms of violence against children, that is acts or behaviour likely to affect the physical integrity, dignity, development or psychological well-being of children.
The relevant provisions must be sufficiently clear, binding and precise, so as to preclude the courts from refusing to apply them to violence against children.
Moreover, states must act with due diligence to ensure that such violence is eliminated in practice.”
“The Charter contains comprehensive provisions protecting the fundamental rights and human dignity of children – that is persons aged under 18 (Defence for Children International v. the Netherlands, Complaint No. 47/2008, decision on the merits of 20 October 2009, §§ 25-26). It enhances the European Convention on Human Rights in this regard. It also reflects the provisions of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, on which in particular Article 17 is based.
“The Committee has noted that there is now a wide consensus at both the European and international level among human rights bodies that the corporal punishment of children should be expressly and comprehensively prohibited in law. The Committee refers, in particular, in this respect to the General Comments Nos. 8 and 13 of the Committee on the Rights of the Child (Complaint No 93/2013 Association for the Protection of All Children (APPROACH) v. Ireland , decision on the merits of 2 December 2014, §§45-47).
“The Committee considers that the situation which it has previously found not to be in conformity with the Charter has not changed. Therefore, it reiterates its previous finding of non-conformity on the ground that not all forms of corporal punishment of children are prohibited in the home.”
“The Committee concludes that the situation in United Kingdom is not in conformity with Article 17 of the 1961 Charter on the grounds that:
- not all forms of corporal punishment are prohibited in the home…”
Prevalence/attitudinal research for UK in the last 10 years
A survey carried out in November-December 2016 for the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCYP), which polled a sample of 1,500 people, found 63% of respondents would definitely support or would tend to support changing the law to give children the same protection from hitting and smacking that adults have. Only 33% of all adults and 37% of parents were aware that the law currently allows a parent to physically punish a child. Only 24% of all adults and 18% of parents said physical punishment was acceptable, with more suggesting that withdrawing treats like pocket money was much more acceptable (73%), followed by grounding, negotiation or discussion and time out.
(Reported in “Rising number back call to ban smacking children: Poll”, Belfast Telegraph, 22 March 2017)
A study that involved focus groups with 70 parents found that although most had physically punished their children, “the consensus was that physical punishment was neither acceptable nor effective” (p. 29). A significant number of parents said they would be happy for legislation banning physical punishment to be enacted.
(Prince, J. et al (2014), Attitudes to parenting practices and child discipline, Cardiff: Welsh Government Social Research)
In a study involving focus groups and face-to-face interviews with 104 13-22 year olds with experience of youth custody in Austria, Cyprus, England, the Netherlands and Romania, young people in England expressed the view that physical restraint in custody can be used as a punishment.
(Children’s Rights Alliance for England (2013), Speaking Freely: Children and Young People in Europe Talk about Ending Violence Against Children in Custody – Research Report, London: CRAE)
A 2012 poll of 2,011 adults in Britain found that 30% would support and 63% oppose “banning parents from smacking their children”. Of those who said they had never been “smacked” as children, 52% supported a ban and 35% opposed one; 51% of respondents said they agreed with the existing “ban on smacking” in state and private schools, with 39% disagreeing.
(Reported in Angus Reid Public Opinion, 13 February 2012, www.angus-reid.com)
Research carried out by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) in 2009 and published in 2011 involved 2,160 interviews with parents of children under 11, 2,275 interviews with 11-17 year olds and their parents, and 1,761 interviews with 18-24 year olds on their childhood experiences. More than two in five (41.6%) of the parents or guardians said they had physically punished or “smacked” their child in the past year: 39.4% of the parents or guardians of under 11s and 45.9% of 11–17s. The report compares the responses of the 18-24 year olds to those in a similar study that examined the experiences of 18-24 year olds in 1998. In 2009, 41% of 18-24 year olds said they had been smacked on the bottom with a bare hand by an adult at home, school or elsewhere during their childhood, compared to 53.1% in 1998; 43% had been smacked on the leg, arm or hand (61% in 1998), and 13.4% slapped on the face, head or ears (21.3% in 1998).
(Radford, L. et al (2011), Child abuse and neglect in the UK today, NSPCC)
A 2011 report on madrassas (supplementary schools for Muslim children that operate outside the mainstream education system) found that children experienced corporal punishment, including being “smacked”, hit with a belt and threatened with a stick in some madrassas.
(Cherti, M. & Bradley, L. (2011), Inside Madrassas: Understanding and Engaging with Bristish-Muslim Faith Supplementary Schools, London: Institute for Public Policy Research)
A survey of 55 health care workers working primarily with children (including paediatricians, clinical psychologists, psychiatrists, school nurses and health visitors) in Scotland found that 47% incorrectly believed the law protected children from assault to a greater extent than adults, 40% correctly stated this was not the case, and 13% did not know.
(Rae, H. et al (2010), “Health Care Workers’ Knowledge of Current Child Protection Legislation and Child Discipline Practices”, Child Abuse Review, 19, 259-272)
A 2010 review of the literature on UK parents’ attitudes to physical punishment highlighted the ambivalence that is evidenced by many studies. While physical punishment was found to be common by many surveys, parents’ attitudes towards it were often inconsistent or conflicting, with many parents, including those who used physical punishment, agreeing it was not a good thing to do.
(Bunting, L. et al (2010), “In Two Minds? Parental Attitudes Toward Physical Punishment in the UK”, Children and Society, 24, 359-370)
In a survey of 1,000 parents of children aged 0-10 in Northern Ireland, 47% said they had physically punished their children at some point and 45% in the last year. On average, those who had used physical punishment during the last year had done so 8 times. The most common form of physical punishment was a smack on the bottom with a bare hand, used by 33% of parents, on average 5.3 times in the past year; 26% had slapped their child on the hand, arm or leg, on average 5.6 times in the past year, and 2.2% had hit their child on the bottom with a belt, a hairbrush, a stick or some other hard object, on average 4.5 times in the past year. Children aged 3-6 were more likely to have been physically punished in the past year (53%) than children aged 7-10 (43%) or 0-2 (33%). Two thirds of parents thought physical punishment never or infrequently led to the child having increased respect for parents, and 60% that it never or infrequently led to the child learning acceptable behaviour; 40% thought physical punishment always or frequently made the child more aggressive, 36% that it always or frequently led to long-term emotional upset for the child, and 60% that it always or frequently made the parent feel regret or guilt.
(Bunting, L. et al (2008), The ‘smacking debate’ in Northern Ireland: messages from research, Barnardo’s Northern Ireland, NICCY and NSPCC Northern Ireland, www.nspcc.org.uk/Inform/research/findings/SmackingDebateNI_wda63277.html)
Of nearly 14,000 mothers interviewed as part of the third survey of the Millennium Cohort Study, which is tracking the development of more than 15,000 UK children, 45% said they never smacked their 5 year old child. Half the mothers in Wales (49%) said they never smacked their child, compared with 35% in Northern Ireland, 45% in England and 43% in Scotland.
(Hansen, K. & Joshi, H. (2008), Millennium Cohort Study: Third Survey: A User’s Guide to Initial Findings, London: Institute of Education)
In 2008, a report on the ongoing Growing up in Scotland (GUS) study focussed on parenting styles. Interviews were carried out with over 4,500 parents of children aged on average 22.5 months and 2,500 parents of children aged on average 46.5 months: 34% of the parents of 3 year olds and 16% of the parents of younger children reported that they had smacked their children. Less than one in five of the parents of 3 year olds believed smacking was useful, and fewer still of the parents of younger children.
(Bradshaw, P. et al (2008), Growing up in Scotland: Sweep 2 Overview Report, Edinburgh: The Scottish Government, www.scotland.gov.uk/Resource/Doc/212225/0056476.pdf)
In an Ipsos MORI poll for Parenting Across Scotland, 5% of the 1,000 parents surveyed had smacked their child “fairly often” or “sometimes” in the previous year, 15% had smacked their child once or twice during that time, and around 20% had threatened to smack their child. Only 1% believed smacking is an effective way of changing a child’s behaviour, 3% believed threatening to smack is effective. A majority of parents (71%) had shouted or yelled at their child, though only 7% consider this to be effective.
(Ipsos MORI (2008), What Scottish Parents Tell Us, Edinburgh: Parenting Across Scotland)
In April 2007, the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) published the results of a survey of 1,000 adults in which 77% believed smacking is becoming less acceptable. The survey was part of the NSPCC’s campaign to stop children being smacked in shops. It revealed that a child being smacked in public had been witnessed by 41% of respondents within the previous six months. The majority of adults (86%) would be happy to shop in a smack-free shop, while 40% would actively prefer to shop where smacking was prohibited; almost all (93%) said they would like shops to take action to help parents losing their tempers with their children. When asked how they felt on seeing a child being smacked, 65% of respondents said they felt concerned for the child; 51% felt upset; 51% said they would like to stop the child being smacked, with 42% of those wanting to comfort the child and 47% wanting to help the parent.
(Reported by the NSPCC, 10 April 2007)
As part of its 2007 review into section 58 of the Children Act 2004, the Department of Children, Schools and Families commissioned studies into the views of parents and children in England and Wales on “smacking”. The parental survey involved 1,822 parents, of whom 1,204 had children under 18 and 618 had children 18 and over. Of the parents with children under 18, 29% said they had smacked their child at some point in the past year, 8% in the past month and 5% in the past week; 38% said they had never smacked their child. Two-to-five year olds were most likely to have been smacked in the last year, with 37% of parents of this age group saying they had done this, compared to 32% of parents of 6-10 year olds, 18% of parents of 11-15 year olds, 10% of parents of 16-17 year olds, and 9% of parents of 0-1 year olds. More than half (57%) said they had smacked at least one of their children at some stage: 14% said they had smacked their children because they “snapped” or lost their temper. Two in five (39%) parents with a child under 18 disagreed that “it is sometimes necessary to smack a naughty child”, and 31% agreed with the statement “I think it is always wrong to smack a child and I won’t do it”; 55% of parents disagreed that “smacking is a good way of teaching children right from wrong”.
(IPSOS Mori (2007), A study into the views of parents on the physical punishment of children for the Department for Children, Schools and Families, DCSF)
As part of its 2007 review into section 58 of the Children Act 2004, the Department of Children, Schools and Families commissioned studies into the views of parents and children in England and Wales on “smacking”. The study into children’s views involved 64 children aged 4-16, through group and pair discussions. The majority of the children had been smacked at some point in their lives, mostly but not exclusively when they were under 10. Boys and girls from all social classes were smacked. Smacking was “often the most feared type of punishment”, but “children consistently agreed that it was not the most effective” (p. 55). Children highlighted the emotional impact of smacking, saying it often made them feel “scarred, stressed, harassed and on edge” (p. 47). Most of the children “struggled to endorse smacking as an effective form of punishment” (p. 56).
(Sherbert Research (2007), A Study into Children’s Views on Physical Discipline and Punishment, DCSF and COI)
In a survey of 1,250 people by the organisation Parenting Across Scotland, 90% said they choose to discuss problems. While 7% said it was acceptable to smack a child, 20% admitted having done so in the last year, with a further 36% saying they had threatened physical punishment.
(Reported in BBC News, 27 February 2007)
Almost two thirds (61%) of 1,629 parents who took part in a survey on interactions between parents and children in Northern Ireland said they never spanked their child. Younger children were more likely to be physically punished than older children, and boys were more likely to be physically punished than girls.
(Devine, P. & Lloyd, K. (2005), Research Update: Bringing up baby, Queen’s University and University of Ulster: ARK NI Social and Political Archive, www.ark.ac.uk/publications/updates/update40.pdf)
 23 May 2008, A/HRC/8/25,Report of the working group, para. 25
 25 August 2008, A/HRC/21/9/Add.1, Report of the working group: Addendum, annex
 , CRC/C/GBR/5, Fifth state party report, para. 12
 25 September 2014, E/C.12/GBR/6, Sixth report, para. 41
 [n.d.], CCPR/C/GBR/Q/7/Add.1, Advance Unedited Version, Reply to list of issues, para. 161
 29 August 2017, Annex to the response to the UPR recommendations received on 4 May 2017
 See the CPS’ website, http://www.cps.gov.uk/legal/l_to_o/offences_against_the_person/
 Letter to the Global Initiative, June 2017
 See https://consultations.gov.wales/consultations/legislative-proposal-remove-defence-reasonable-punishment, accessed 22 January 2018
 22 September 2016, Scottish Human Rights Commission submission to the UN Human Rights Council, rec. 10
 See http://www.parliament.scot/S5MembersBills/John_Finnie_Final_Consultation_Document_pdf.pdf, accessed 16 May 2017
 See https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/19/smacking-children-to-be-banned-in-scotland, accessed 19 October 2017
 , CRC/C/GBR/5, Fifth state party report, para. 12
 29 August 2017, Annex to the response to the UPR recommendations received on 4 May 2017
 23 May 2008, A/HRC/8/25, Report of the working group, paras. 56(2), 56(3), 56(4) and 56(5)
 23 May 2008, A/HRC/8/25, Report of the working group, para. 25
 25 August 2008, A/HRC/8/25/Add.1, Report of the working group: Addendum, paras. 28, 29 and 30
 Mid-term progress update by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland on its implementation of recommendations agreed in June 2008, para. 7
 6 July 2012, A/HRC/21/9, Report of the working group, paras. 110(78), 10(79) and 110(80)
 17 September 2012, A/HRC/21/9/Add.1, Report of the working group: Addendum, annex
 2014, Mid-term report by the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland
 8 May 2017, A/HRC/WG.6/27/L.7, Draft report of the working group, unedited version, paras. 6(193), 6(194), 6(195), 6(196), 6(197), 6(198) and 6(199)
 7 September 2017, A/HRC/36/9/Add.1, Report of the working group: addendum, para. 3; see also 29 August 2017, Annex to the response to the recommendations received on 4 May 2017