8.51 Reasonable punishment and smacking
Added in July 2020
Date of next review July 2022
What is the law on smacking children?
It is unlawful for a parent or carer to smack their child. There is however a defence available to a parent or person acting in loco parentis where the smack amounts to “reasonable punishment” This defence is laid down in Section 58 of the Children Act 2004, but it is not defined in this legislation.
The fact there is a defence in law does not mean that a crime has not been committed
Whether a ‘smack’ amounts to reasonable punishment will depend on the circumstances of each case taking into consideration factors like the age of the child and the nature of the smack. Physical punishment will be considered ‘unreasonable’ if it leaves a mark on the child or if the child is hit with a fist/closed hand or an implement such as a cane or a belt. It would also be deemed unreasonable if smacking became any more than an isolated incident.
Section 58 of the Children Act 2004 limits the use of the defence of reasonable punishment so that it can no longer be used when people are charged with the offences against a child of wounding, actual or grievous bodily harm or cruelty. Therefore any injury sustained by a child which is serious enough to warrant a charge of assault occasioning actual bodily harm cannot be considered to be as the result of reasonable punishment. (NSPCC).
A parent can be charged with a criminal offence if they harm their child under the following certain offences:
Physical punishment or chastisement of children and young people can have a very detrimental effect on their physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
Physical punishment, such as smacking, slapping, pushing or hitting with an implement can cause:
There is no justification for inflicting pain on a child or young person as a parent (or any other adult carer). Any form of physical punishment that leaves a mark on a child or young person is considered an assault and is illegal under the Section 58 of the Children Act 2004
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