Smacking row as children’s chief denies abuse comment

A row has erupted over comments from the Northern Ireland Children’s Commissioner saying smacking is child abuse.

The Belfast News Letter has now made the full audio recording of Patricia Lewsley’s comments available online, and points out that she can be clearly heard agreeing that smacking is child abuse.

But the Commissioner has accused the newspaper of taking the comments out of context.

Speaking on a radio programme after her comments were published, the Commissioner insisted: “I said that physical punishment is physical punishment – and it’s about the action.

“Whether it’s used in the sense of a parent hitting a child or whether it’s used by an abuser – it’s the action [that] is equal to physical punishment – not that parents are child abusers.”

During the original interview with the Belfast News Letter she explained that she wants a smacking ban because 488 children in Northern Ireland are on the ‘at risk’ register because of physical abuse.

When asked by the reporter if she would make any distinction between physical abuse and smacking, she replied: “No.”

The reporter then asked: “Even if someone is setting out to deliberately harm their child and obviously cares nothing for them, and a parent who has the best interests of their child, albeit you may think misguided, at heart, and want to turn them into a better person — you think that’s entirely the same thing?”

The Commissioner answered: “Yeah.”

Commissioner Lewsley has been criticised for pursuing her campaign to ban smacking in the Province through the courts at public expense.

She has been trying to challenge the decision of the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland to bring the law in the Province into line with that of 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.

Several MPs from Northern Ireland and England have welcomed the fact that the Commissioner’s latest attempt to ban smacking has failed.

They criticised “her waste of public money in pursuit of an ideologically driven legal campaign” and called on her “to cease attempting to criminalise loving, caring parents”.

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