Parents who smack their children should be prosecuted for assault, according to bureaucrats from the Council of Europe.
But family value campaigners are alarmed that “a vocal minority” of activists are in danger of undermining the authority of parents to discipline their children.
Maud de Boer-Buquicchio, Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe, said: “Prohibiting all corporal punishment is a legal imperative and I hope the United Kingdom will take that essential step urgently.”
She also claimed that gentle smacks which do not leave a mark could cause children psychological harm, and attacked the UK’s approach to parenting which is “one of authority.”
But Norman Wells, Director of the Family Education Trust, dismissed her claim, saying: “It is parents, and not national governments, who bear the responsibility of caring for children, nurturing them, and correcting them where necessary.”
He added: “Generations of parents have proved the benefit of moderate smacking to correct their children’s behaviour, and research continues to show its positive effects when used in the context of a loving home where children are respected and cherished.
“It has become a contentious issue only because of a vocal minority who are determined to undermine the authority of parents.”
The Council of Europe hosted a debate on corporal punishment yesterday.
Sweden became the first country to ban corporal punishment when it outlawed the practice 30 years ago.
The ban was an attempt to reduce child abuse, but the success of the scheme has been cast into doubt.
A 2004 report by Dr Robert E Larzelere warned that since the implementation of the ban there had been “a sharp increase in child abuse and child-on-child violence.”
The Council of Europe is responsible for monitoring compliance with the European Convention on Human Rights.
The current law in England, Wales and Northern Ireland allows parents to use ‘reasonable chastisement’ as long as it does not leave more than a transitory mark on the child.
And in Scotland, smacking is allowed but the use of implements, shaking or blows to the head are outlawed.
Last November a mother was secretly followed home by an off-duty police officer because her children were misbehaving in a supermarket and she warned them they might get a smack.
She was later questioned by police.
And in August a woman who was sacked as a school nurse after smacking her child at home lost a claim for unfair dismissal.
Susan Pope disciplined her son after he swore at her but when his older brother reported it to the police, she was taken into a cell and questioned on abuse charges.