Calls are growing to ban smacking across the UK amid claims it has no benefits and can make children’s behaviour worse.
Experts say evidence the practice is harmful is overwhelming.
But any move to ban smacking will prove controversial, with campaigners saying it impinges on people’s right to parent as they see fit.
The latest research, published in The Lancet yesterday, evaluated 69 studies into corporal punishment conducted over the past 20 years
England is one of four European countries where parents can legally use physical force against children if it is ‘reasonable punishment’.
Scotland outlawed physical punishment of under-16s last year and a law imposing a similar ban will be implemented in Wales next year.
England and Northern Ireland must follow suit, said researchers from University College London, who were backed last night by health experts and children’s charities.
But others said banning smacking would be an ‘invasion of government into family life’ that risks criminalising loving parents.
The latest research, published in The Lancet yesterday, evaluated 69 studies into corporal punishment conducted over the past 20 years.
It found under-16s who have been hit by parents are more likely to be aggressive, anti-social and display behavioural problems. The more frequently children are smacked, the worse their behaviour.
Lead author Dr Anja Heilmann, from the UCL department of epidemiology and public health, said: ‘Physical punishment is ineffective and harmful, and has no benefits for children and their families. This could not be clearer from the evidence we present.
‘We see a definitive link between physical punishment and behavioural problems such as aggression and anti-social behaviour.
‘This is a public health issue. But physical punishment is not only harmful – it also violates children’s human rights.’
Joanna Barrett, from the NSPCC, said: ‘This is yet another significant study that shows physical punishment is harmful to children.
‘It cannot be right that in 2021 children are the only group in society that it is legally acceptable to assault in England. The case for reform is beyond doubt.’ The Children’s Commissioner for England Dame Rachel de Souza said yesterday: ‘This report lays out starkly the negative effects smacking can have on children’s development and why it is simply outdated, wrong and unnecessary.’
Scotland outlawed physical punishment of under-16s last year and a law imposing a similar ban will be implemented in Wales next year. (Pictured, MSPs in Scottish Parliament, Edinburgh, celebrating the passing of the Children Equal Protection from Assault Scotland Bill)
But she added that, while she has ‘never agreed with smacking and I never smacked my child’, it was too early to back a law change.
The Be Reasonable campaign, which opposes smacking bans, said: ‘Parents who love their children should be trusted to decide when a smack on the bum is appropriate. Ordinary mums and dads are fed up of so-called experts demonising their parenting.’
Andrea Williams, of Christian Concern, added: ‘There is an important issue of parental freedom at stake here. A blanket ban on smacking would be a damaging invasion of government into family life.’
In England parents who hit their children can claim a defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ under section 58 of the Children Act 2004.
But if the violence leaves a mark, such as a scratch or a bruise, parents can be prosecuted for assault.
Smacking is illegal in 62 countries including all of Europe apart from England, Italy, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.