The Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) said that although corporal punishment 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, it 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".
AEP will propose a motion at the Trades Union Congress (TUC) in Manchester today calling for a full ban on corporal punishment in the UK.
It said that under the current law even when there is physical evidence of severe punishment, it is almost impossible to prove that it is unreasonable. The burden of proof is on the prosecution to show that the punishment was unreasonable, and as the violence takes place behind closed doors, gathering evidence is difficult and successful prosecutions are rare.
Addressing the annual TUC Congress, John Drewicz, member of the Association of Educational Psychologists' 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 okay 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."
- Positive parenting is the answer to ending 'reasonable punishment' defence
- We must afford children same protection as adults
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.
Legislation to ban parents in Scotland from smacking their children was put forward last week. The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill has been introduced by Green MSP John Finnie and has the backing of the Scottish Government and MSPs from all political parties.
Currently in Scottish law parents are allowed to use physical punishment on their children under the defence of "justifiable assault". But Finnie's bill would remove that defence.
In support of a UK-wide 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.
The Department for Education said that the government does not condone violence towards children and there are clear laws to deal with it, adding that it does not want to necessarily criminalise parents.