Govt rejects call to criminalise smacking in England

The Westminster Government has confirmed that it does not plan to ban smacking in England, following pressure to criminalise parents who reasonably chastise their children.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health published a report urging ministers in both England and Northern Ireland to axe the legal defence of reasonable chastisement, which currently allows loving parents to lightly discipline their children without fear of prosecution.

The Scottish Government came under fire for instructing people to call 999 on parents when it banned smacking in 2020, and the Welsh Government spent around £2.7 million publicising its own ban introduced in 2022.

‘Criminalising parents’

In response to the calls for a ban, a spokesperson for England’s Department for Education said: “Any form of violence towards a child is completely unacceptable and we have clear laws in place to prevent it.”

They added: “We are supporting teachers, social workers and all safeguarding professionals to spot the signs of abuse or neglect more quickly”, and that its safeguarding framework for children in England “makes clear what organisations should do to keep children safe”.

While proponents of a ban say it is not about opening up parents to prosecution, Be Reasonable spokesman Simon Calvert told Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2: “The Scottish Government have banned smacking. For months they told us, ‘This is not about criminalising parents’; day one of the new law coming into force they issued guidance saying, ‘if you see a parent smack a child, dial 999’.

“So it is very much about criminalising parents.”

‘Nanny state’

The UK Government’s position reflects its recent history of rejecting calls to ban smacking.

In 2022, the then Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi told Times Radio: “My very strong view is that actually we have got to trust parents on this and parents being able to discipline their children is something that they should be entitled to do.

“We have got to just make sure we don’t end up in a world where the state is nannying people about how they bring up their children.”

Also see:

Children and mother

Welsh Govt throws millions at ‘pernicious’ smacking ban

Shadow Health Secretary: ‘Smacking is not immoral’

Call 999 if parent smacks child, says Scot Govt