• Parents across the UK are legally allowed to smack their children as a means of parental discipline.
  • The Children Act 2004 restricted the defence of “reasonable chastisement” for parental smacking of children. The Act applies to England and Wales.
  • Under the law, any smack that leaves more than a temporary mark may be illegal. Any smack that causes reddening of the skin that is more than transitory could potentially result in prosecution. A similar law exists in Northern Ireland.
  • In Scotland it is illegal to discipline by shaking, or using any implement, or any smack directed at the head.

Biblical arguments

In the Bible it is parents who have the responsibility for raising children. Parents have a God-given authority over their children.

The fifth commandment requires a child to honour their father and mother (Exodus 20:12). This was quoted by Jesus and by the Apostle Paul.

Parents are expected to exercise loving discipline over their children. As part of this most parents use physical chastisement such as smacking.1 Discipline must not be harsh. Fathers are told to instruct children according to what is good and not to exasperate their children (Ephesians 6:4). That discipline can be painful is clearly accepted in Scripture (e.g. Hebrews 12:7-11). However, attempts to make the administration of reasonable chastisement a criminal offence should be strongly resisted – as should other moves which usurp the authority of parents.

Key points

  • Smacking is not child abuse. Most reasonable people see there is a world of difference between abuse and a loving smack.
  • The public is overwhelmingly opposed to banning smacking. 65% of people in Great Britain say it is ‘sometimes necessary for a parent to smack a child’.2 Almost seven in ten people in Wales oppose a ban on parents smacking their children.3
  • The present law is clear and widely understood. A new law would only divert resources away from protecting abused children.
  • Some parents might not feel the need to smack their child. But for most parents, smacking is a necessary means of loving discipline.
  • Evidence from Sweden, which banned smacking in 1979, suggests that the ban not only failed to reduce child abuse, but made the situation dramatically worse. By 2010, records of assaults by relatives against children under seven were over 21 times the 1981 figures.4
  1. 1Child Discipline (and other) Poll, Survation, 2-3 February 2012. Survation interviewed 521 GB adults online between 2 and 3 February 2012. Data were weighted to be representative of all GB adults aged 18+. Survation is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
  2. 2Parenting Survey, ComRes, 31 January-2 February 2014, Table 1, page 1. ComRes interviewed 2049 GB adults online between 31 January and 2 February 2014. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
  3. 3YouGov, 9-11 April 2014. YouGov interviewed a representative sample of 1009 Welsh adults online between 9 and 11 April 2014. YouGov is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.
  4. 4Larzelere et al, Swedish Trends in Assaults Against Minors Since Banning Spanking, 1981-2010, see