Smacking is ‘child abuse’ says NI children’s chief

Parents who smack their children are like ‘child abusers’, Northern Ireland’s Children’s Commissioner has claimed.

Patricia Lewsley was giving her first interview since her second failed attempt to ban smacking in the Province ten days ago.

The Commissioner responded “no” when asked if she thought there was any difference between a person deliberately setting out to harm a child and a loving parent smacking in the hope of making their child a better person.

She told the Belfast News Letter: “Children have told us that hitting is humiliating. Even though they would say their parents are loving and caring, it is still humiliating.”

The Commissioner’s unsuccessful legal campaign has so far thought to have landed her office with a bill for £50,000, which will be paid by the taxpayer.

She is now considering taking her appeal to the House of Lords, and one newspaper has estimated it could rack up further costs of £200,000 to the taxpayer.

The Commissioner told the News Letter that she did not want to criminalise parents and drag them through the courts but they should stop smacking their children.

She suggests using “positive parenting strategies” such as “time out” instead, which she says would allow both parties to consider their actions.

The Commissioner stated that children should be treated equally to adults. But when asked about whether children should be able to vote or join the armed forces she was unsure.

She maintained that her role was to teach children their rights but not responsibility.

During a previous hearing in the courts Miss Lewsley’s lawyers argued that smacking a child was like using an electric fence to restrain an animal.

The Commissioner was challenging a decision by the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to bring the law in the Province into line with that operating in England and Wales.

Under this law parents may use ‘reasonable chastisement’ as long as it does not leave more than a transitory mark on the child.

The Commissioner had tried to argue that smacking was a breach of the dignity and wellbeing of children, and as such fell foul of human rights legislation.

But judges confirmed that the lawful use of smacking was not incompatible with children’s rights.

An attempt by MPs to ban smacking last year failed after time ran out for a vote on the issue. The Government has made it clear that it opposes a smacking ban.

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