End in sight for legal anomaly as equal protection bill is introduced

By Des Mannion

| 05 April 2019

Last month, Wales took another vital step towards achieving equal protection under assault law for our children.

Julie Morgan, the Welsh Government's deputy minister for health and social services, introduced the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill in the Senedd during the final week of March.

If this bill is eventually passed by the Welsh Assembly, it will finally end a legal anomaly that allows parents and other adults acting in a parental capacity to physically punish children - something NSPCC Cymru/Wales believes is unfair and wrong.

For many years now, for example, the physical punishment of children has been illegal in schools.

The law also currently stands that the assault of an adult by another adult is prohibited.

But if an adult assaults a child and faces prosecution, they have open to them a legal defence of ‘reasonable punishment'.

NSPCC Cymru/Wales has long campaigned for equal protection for children and we strongly believe a change in the law is a common-sense move.

It's wrong that children have less protection from assault and that a legal defence which does not exist when an adult is hit can be used to justify striking a child.

Closing this loophole will bring Wales in line with more than 50 countries across the world, which already afford children equal protection under assault law, and is simply about fairness and equality for the youngest members of our society.

This move is not about criminalising parents or undermining their ability to provide discipline to their children, but we firmly believe that change is overdue.

Attitudes to physical punishment are changing and the number of parents using it is declining.

Research shows that physical punishment results in poorer outcomes and health visitors and parenting programmes all promote positive parenting, with clear rules and boundary setting using non-violent methods.

The NSPCC understands and appreciates that there is no single way of parenting.

But we do not believe it is right that the youngest members of our society should have less protection from the law and we do not believe physically punishing a child for bad behaviour is an effective form of discipline.

Whether Wales will be first country of the United Kingdom that achieves equal protection remains to be seen - a similar bill is currently progressing in Scotland.

It is our hope at NSPCC Cymru/Wales that the coming year will see this legislation succeed and show Wales leading the way in protecting the safety and rights of all our children and in every setting.

Des Mannion is head of service, NSPCC Cymru

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