Smacking in Wales – why will the law soon be different to England?

Smacking in Wales – why will the law soon be different to England?

Smacking in Wales will soon be banned (from 2022). You may have seen in the news earlier this year when this change in the law in Wales was announced. So why is the law going to be different in Wales and what difference will the change make to children?

What does the law say about smacking?

Up until Wales made changes to the law on smacking, the law about this in Wales was the same as in England.

Just to be clear there is no law that says that it is generally OK for parents to smack or hit their children. What the law does say is that it is generally wrong for someone to hit – or ‘assault’ – another person. Normally, if someone hits someone else, even if it doesn’t leave a mark or any lasting injuries, they can be arrested and charged with an offence of ‘common assault’ or perhaps a more serious assault, such as ‘wounding’. If they agree that they did hit the person, or the court decides that they did, they will receive a punishment which could include spending time in prison.

Although this is normally what will happen, the law says that in some cases if a parent commits a common assault against their child this may be treated as ‘reasonable punishment’ for something the child has done. When this happens it does not count as an assault. The parent has a ‘defence’. This defence is only a defence where the parent commits a common assault. It does not apply if the assault is more serious, for example if the parent causes their child an injury.

When will a hit, or a smack be treated as ‘reasonable punishment’?

Although the law says that there is this defence of ‘reasonable punishment’, it only applies to a common assault when

  • a parent (or someone acting the place of the parent) hits their own child
  • the hit doesn’t leave a mark on the child (although it might cause a ‘temporary reddening of the skin’)

If the hitting causes any more serious harm to the child, the parent cannot say that what he or she had done was ‘reasonable punishment’[1].

What does the UNCRC say about smacking or hitting child?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) says that children should be protected from “…all forms of physical and mental violence, injury or abuse…” and from “degrading treatment”. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has said lots of times that this includes ‘smacking’, which is hitting a child, and has criticised countries where smacking is still allowed, including the UK. The Committee says that hitting a child, even if it is called a smack, is still violence, and should not be permitted.

Why did Wales decide to change the law?

Wales has the power to make its own laws in some areas, so the law can be different in Wales, compared to England.

Wales made a commitment to the UNCRC and to children’s rights in Wales when it introduced the Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 which means that the Welsh Government has to take account of the UNCRC whenever it makes any decisions. This doesn’t just apply to decisions that obviously affect children and young people, but all their decisions.

Introducing a law to remove the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ in Wales is a positive step for children’s rights in Wales. It is designed to reduce the use of physical punishment against children in Wales, and to bring Wales into line with the UNCRC which says that children should be protected from violence and abuse.

When will the law actually change?

Although the Senedd has passed the law to remove the defence of reasonable punishment, it is not actually part of the law in Wales yet. The Welsh Government is planning to run a campaign so that people know about the change in the law, and then make the law start having effect in 2022.

Is it just Wales that will ban smacking?

It’s not just Wales where smacking will be banned in the UK. Scotland will ban smacking in 2021, and Jersey, which isn’t technically part of the UK, but is one of the Channel Islands, and is very closely linked to the UK, has banned smacking. Sweden was the first country in the world to ban smacking, back in 1979, and since then quite a few other European countries have banned smacking, as well as non-European countries including Israel and South Africa.

What happens if a family from England is visiting Wales?

The law in Wales applies to any person when they are in Wales. If a family is in Wales on holiday, or visiting, and a parent hits their child, from 2022 they will not be able to say that it is ‘reasonable punishment’ once the law takes effect.

What happens if my parents hit me before the law takes effect?

Until the change in the law takes effect, parents can still rely on the defence of reasonable punishment if they hit their children. It’s important to remember though, that this only applies where the ‘hit’ doesn’t cause any lasting mark or injury, and only if you are hit with the hand. Anything else and your parents will be breaking the law and won’t have a defence. You can find out more about what to do if your parents are hurting you on our website here.

[1] The defence of reasonable punishment is included in the Children Act 2004, section 58

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