October 8, 2008 / 10:54 AM / 10 years ago

British MPs to push for ban on smacking children

LONDON (Reuters Life!) - A cross-party group of British MPs is expected on Wednesday to try to introduce a legal ban preventing parents from smacking their children, a campaign group said.

The MPs, headed by Kevin Barron, Chairman of the Commons Health Select Committee, have backed an amendment to the Children and Young Persons Bill calling for youngsters to have the same rights as adults on assault.

The amendment aims to abolish the legal defense of “reasonable punishment,” said the Children Are Unbeatable! Alliance, which represents more than 400 organizations.

More than 100 backbench Labour MPs have signed a private statement demanding the government allow them a free vote on whether there should be a ban, it added.

The issue was last debated in 2004 when calls for a complete ban were rejected despite a rebellion by Labour MPs. Instead a compromise measure was agreed which forbids any punishment which causes visible bruising, grazes, cuts or scratches.

The government remains opposed to an outright ban but campaigners, including the Children’s Commissioner for England Al Aynsley-Green, say the current situation is ineffective and sends out confusing messages.

“We must act now to end the legal approval of hitting children,” Barron said.

“The current law allowing so-called ‘reasonable punishment’ is unjust, unsafe and unclear. Frankly we are baffled by the hesitation so far about giving a vote on what is so clearly a conscience issue.”

Last year, ministers said the law, which applies to England and Wales, would remain unchanged after a review found that most parents did not want a complete ban on corporal punishment.

“This is one of those principled reforms on which politicians must make a stand whatever the pollsters might say,” said William Utting, the Alliance’s spokesman.

“The law must send the clear message that hitting children is as unacceptable as hitting anyone else.”

Editing by Steve Addison and Paul Casciato

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