The Christian Institute

News Release

Durkan’s smacking ban proposals will plunge parents into fear and confusion

The Christian Institute today publishes its response to the Northern Ireland Executive’s proposals to make all parental smacking illegal. The current law already protects children from ‘unreasonable chastisement’ but the Executive is consulting on proposals which include criminalising parents who smack their children. The Institute says that these proposals are unworkable, wrong in principle and will plunge parents into fear and confusion.

Northern Ireland Assembly Member Dr Esmond Birnie MLA (UUP, South Belfast) says the Executive’s smacking consultation is flawed and biased. The Christian Institute entirely agrees with Dr Birnie’s statement issued earlier today (Friday).

Simon Calvert, Deputy Director of The Christian Institute, said:

“Loving parents who smack their children are not child abusers. They smack their children because they believe discipline is part of love, and want the best for their children.

If the Executive’s unworkable proposals ever see the light of day, then ordinary parents will be plunged into fear and confusion. Parents who smack their children will become criminals.

The Executive say the law must change to comply with a European ruling. Executive Minister Mark Durkan says: “No change is not an option”(1) . But this is this simply is not true. If the British government say there is no need to change the law for England and Wales, then there is no need to change the law in Northern Ireland (2).

The consultation implies that public opinion is deeply divided on smacking. This is untrue. The overwhelming majority of people view smacking as acceptable. An Office for National Statistics study found that 88% believed it is “sometimes necessary to smack a naughty child”(3) . Yet despite this, the Executive claims only 34% support retaining physical punishment in their survey (4). We are not surprised at this answer since the question asks people about their view on ‘hitting’ a child. Most people agree there is a vast difference between smacking and hitting. Yet the Executive’s survey equates them.

The Executive has not produced a genuine, open or fair consultation. Its entire approach assumes that the parental freedom to smack must be restricted. It uses highly contentious evidence from an academic who is probably the leading European campaigner for a total smacking ban. The Executive even admits that very little research has been done about physical punishment in Northern Ireland (5). Yet the consultation presents strident anti-smacking views.”

An online version of “Locking Up Parents?”, The Christian Institute’s briefing booklet on the consultation, is available at

For further information contact:

Simon Calvert on 0191 281 5664

Note for Editors:

The Christian Institute is a charity which seeks to promote the Christian faith in the UK, giving a Christian perspective on moral and ethical issues.

The Christian Institute, 26 Jesmond Road, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE2 4PQ. Charity No. 100 4774


1. News Release, Department of Finance and Personnel, 11 September 2001

2. Press Release, ‘Protecting Children, Supporting Parents: No Smacking Ban’, Department of Health, 8 November 2001

3. 1998 Office for National Statistics Survey, reproduced in Annex A of Protecting Children, Supporting Parents – A Consultation Document on the Physical Punishment of Children, Department of Health, January 2000

4. Physical Punishment in the home – thinking about the issues, looking at the evidence: A Consultation paper for Northern Ireland, Office of Law Reform, September 2001, page 14, (the full consultation paper). The Office of Law Reform, (within the Executive’s Department of Finance and Personnel) is carrying out this consultation.

5.Physical Punishment in the home – thinking about the issues, looking at the evidence: A Consultation paper for Northern Ireland, Op cit page 13