In Depth

The countries where smacking children is illegal

Wales joins more than 60 other nations in outlawing physical punishment of kids

Wales has become the second UK nation to ban the smacking or slapping of children.

Scotland was the first to ban physical punishment of children, in November 2020, although the British crown dependency of Jersey led the way by vetoing smacking in April of that year.

Now, Wales has followed by removing the legal defence of reasonable punishment, which means “anyone who smacks a child in their care could be arrested and prosecuted for assault”, the BBC reported.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said that the ban marked a “historic day” for children and that there was "no place for physical punishment in a modern Wales”.

“The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child makes it clear that children have the right to be protected from harm and from being hurt and this includes physical punishment,” he continued. “That right is now enshrined in Welsh law.

“No more grey areas. No more defence of reasonable punishment. That is all in the past.”

Critics have claimed that law change could criminalise parents and create a “Stasi culture”, with people “shopping” their neighbours or making malicious allegations, reported The Guardian.

Julie Morgan, the deputy minister for social services, insisted that “we don’t want people spying”. 

“Looking after children is the responsibility of the whole community,” she said. 

Polling by YouGov for the NSPCC on 21 March, the day that Wales officially banned smacking, found that attitudes to smacking in England are changing too. Of almost 3,000 adults quizzed, 68% said that physically disciplining a child was not acceptable, and 64% backed a smacking ban in England.

England is now in the “lonely” position of being the only nation in Britain that allows parents to hit their children, putting it, said The Times. Along with Northern Ireland, England still permits smacking that is deemed to constitute “reasonable punishment”.

The vast majority of countries across the world have codified laws banning child abuse, including that committed by a parent or guardian under the guise of “discipline”. But more moderate physical chastisement occupies a grey area in most of these nations.

Until recent decades, corporal punishment was not considered taboo even in otherwise progressive countries. Caning was not outlawed in British state schools until 1987, and remained legal in private schools until 1997.

But while the developed world continues to move towards non-physical forms of discipline, only a minority of countries have completely outlawed corporal punishment.

According to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, a total 63 states worldwide have made smacking children illegal in any setting, including the home. Corporal punishment is illegal in schools in a total of 135 countries.

In 1979, Sweden became the first country in the world to explicitly ban the corporal punishment of children.

The ban sparked a fierce debate about parental rights and state responsibilities and “made headlines all over the world”, says Radio Sweden. One of the station’s correspondents recalled “reading headlines like ‘The Swedes have gone mad’ and ‘The government takes charge of parenting in Sweden’”.

Other early adopters include Norway, Finland, Austria and Denmark. In the 1990s, a slew of European countries outlawed the practice, and in 2000, Israel became the first non-European state to ban smacking.

Countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia have also joined the growing list of nations where corporal punishment is banned. South Korea and Colombia last year became the most recent nations to ban all forms of smacking and corporal punishment of children.

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