Parents and carers in Wales could be banned from smacking children under new legislation proposed by the Welsh government.
If implemented, the ban would make Wales the second area of the UK to end the physical punishment of children after the Scottish Government announced its plans to remove the defence of “justifiable assault” in Scots law, which allows parents to use physical punishment to admonish a child.
In Wales, the government plans to remove the defence of reasonable punishment to the offences of battery and assault.
People across Wales will now be able to have their say on the proposals during a public consultation.
Launching the 12-week consultation on the issue on Tuesday, the Minister for Children and Social Care, Huw Irranca-Davies, said the ban would be part of a wider package of measures to ensure children have the best start in life.
“We want parents in Wales to be confident in managing their children’s behaviour without feeling they must resort to physical punishment,” he explained.
“If there is any potential risk of harm to a child then it is our obligation as a government to take action.
“Legislation was introduced many years ago to stop physical punishment in schools and childcare settings – now is the time to ensure it is no longer acceptable anywhere.”
Mr Irranca-Davies said he was aware there were differing views on the legislation and that the consultation, which closes on April 2 2018, would provide everyone an opportunity to have their say.
The proposed legislation would not result in the creation of a new offence but would instead remove a defence to the existing offences of assault and battery, meaning an adult looking after a child would no longer be able to use physical or corporal punishment against them.
Mr Irranca-Davies added: “As a parent of three boys myself, I know being a parent can sometimes be a challenging experience.
Children do not come with an instruction manual and sometimes parents need guidance and support to help them raise healthy and happy children.
He said it was now known that physical punishment could have “negative long-term impacts on a child’s life chances” and was an “ineffective punishment”.
An NSPCC Cymru / Wales spokesman said: “The NSPCC has long campaigned for children in Wales to have the same protection against assault as adults so we welcome the steps being taken towards removing the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’.
“Doing so is a common-sense move which is about fairness and equality for children.
“It is wrong that a defence which does not exist in a case of common assault against an adult can be used to justify striking a child.
“Closing this loophole will bring Wales in line with dozens of countries around the world and finally give our children equal protection under the law.”
Sally Holland, Children’s Commissioner for Wales, added: “I said on the day I was appointed that I would work to give children the same protection in the law as adults. This consultation, for me, demonstrates a significant step forward in Welsh Government’s commitment to protecting children.
“If accepted, this will see Wales leading the way yet again in protecting children’s rights.
“There has been a lot of misinformation circulating during debates about this topic over recent months. Here are the facts: Welsh Government does not want to create a new criminal offence.
“Welsh Government does not want to criminalise parents. What Government does want to do is to ensure children living in Wales are afforded the same protection in the law as adults. Hitting or smacking a child is never loving or caring. I see no reasonable arguments against the ambition of this consultation.
“This consultation explains carefully and in detail the research evidence on the negative effects of smacking and the positive impact of authoritative parenting styles that do not include physical punishment.”