Deputy proposes making smacking children illegal

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Deputy Mary Le Hegarat has lodged a proposition for debate on 15 January which seeks to repeal the article in Jersey’s Children Law that allows a parent, a carer or someone with parental consent has a right to ‘any defence of reasonable corporal punishment of a child’.

Deputy Le Hegarat’s proposition would seek to remove that right in line with the recommendations of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, of which Jersey is a signatory.

‘I know that some people will say that they were smacked when they were young and it didn’t do them any harm, and so they think they have a right to do the same thing to their children,’ Deputy Le Hegarat said. ‘But I would simply question what the benefit is. Who benefits from smacking a child? Certainly not the child, as it doesn’t stop them from doing the same thing again.

‘To argue against repealing this article would be to effectively say that we own our children, but we don’t own them. Every child has a right to be protected from violence.’

However, chairwoman of the Public Accounts Committee Sarah Ferguson has said that the proposition amounts to government interference and ‘should be resisted’.

‘I am concerned at the government taking upon itself the duties of parenting,’ she said. ‘This does seem an excessive use of government powers.

‘I abhor excessive force, beating and mistreatment of children. However, there are occasions when a short sharp, smack with the hand on the leg emphasizes a disciplinary point – for example, when a young child ignores a parental instruction and runs out into the road. Is it better to allow the child to run into the road and get knocked down? And what about a child putting its fingers into an electric socket?

‘Beating a child or hitting violently is not corporal punishment – it is abuse and, quite rightly, we have legislation against that. However, for government to take all duties away from parents is unacceptable and should be resisted.’

Meanwhile, the Children’s Commissioner Deborah McMillan described the proposal as one that protects children’s rights.

‘I welcome the proposition by Deputy Le Hegarat and hope that it receives the political backing it deserves,’ she said. ‘The Government of Jersey is a signatory of the UNCRC, and as such is committed to protecting children’s rights. Any legal provisions which allow for the violent punishment of children, on any level, are not compatible with the UNCRC and should be repealed.

‘The physical punishment of children is now completely prohibited in 53 countries around the world. Repealing Article 79 of the Children (Jersey) Law 2002 would demonstrate a recognition of children’s rights and an awareness of the work being done in other jurisdictions to advance these rights in both new and existing legislation. Scotland, who are similarly considering revising their legislation to protect children from physical punishment, refer to “equal protection from assault” highlighting the fact that such changes simply bring the legal protection offered to children in line with that already offered to adults.

‘This is not about criminalising parents but about raising awareness of the wealth of evidence which shows both the physical and emotional damage to children from physical punishment; and that it is an ineffective means of improving children’s behaviour.’

In a snap poll of more than 400, 72 per cent of JEP readers said that they were opposed to banning smacking.

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