Illustration by Hannah Robinson
Scotland has become the first UK country to ban smacking of children. This very recent legislation has brought to the attention of many the question of why children previously had less rights to not be physically assaulted than adults.
Prior to this legislation, “a person accused of assaulting of a child can claim a defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ or ‘justifiable assault’ when they have used physical force as a form of discipline on children under the age of 16”. When is assaulting a child ever justifiable? This is tested using contextual and circumstantial evidence – the age of the child, the nature of the smack, whether the force used was or was not ‘reasonable’ punishment for the child’s so-called crime.
Though the statistics show that a high percentage of people were smacked as children, they also suggest that there are links between childhood chastisement via bodily smacks and psychological problems in adulthood. Despite this, it must be said that in 2010 papers like the Daily Mail and The Telegraph were more than happy to report that smacked children become ‘more successful’ in later life. However, it is in no way a surprise that, nine years later, we have realised the links between childhood exposure to violence and adulthood problems.
Though this may be shocking to read, it is possible to discipline a child without using violence. Parenting is hard, I can’t yet imagine just how hard, but if you are having to resort to smacking your child because you have no other way of getting them in line, there’s surely something you’re missing. Violence as punishment from such a young age obviously leads to that kind of thinking later in life. If a parent that you love and trust smacks you ‘lovingly’, in order to help your individual discipline and development, why would you not continue to think that violence both works and can come from love?
Of course a smack will make a child think twice about pushing their sister off the swing, but there have to be other ways to make children understand the difference between right and wrong. There is little difference between smacking a child and hitting a child, and quite frankly I find it bizarre that we use this different rhetoric in order to justify it. Smacks are defined as on the body, generally not leaving marks. Another type of violence that is bodily, and careful not to leave visible marks, is domestic abuse.
This is not to suggest that everyone who was smacked as a child will see it as justifiable to smack a partner who does something ‘wrong’, but it is a question that needs to be asked. Why would you think otherwise, when you have been raised with violence as a punishment that works? And where is the line?
Hopefully the rest of the UK will follow Scotland’s legislation. Though I am sure that there are so many parents who have smacked their children but would never consider it violence, would shudder at the thought of actually hurting their child, there are plenty of parents who use ‘smacking’ as a justification for violence, when it really is not a ‘justifiable chastisement’, or when the child – child – has actually done no wrong. So to the people who are annoyed that their parenting methods are being controlled and restricted by the Government, I ask you: can you really be okay with the fact that your ‘right’ to give your child a little smack is aiding someone else getting away with full blown child abuse?