Is smacking a child legal in the UK? Law on smacking your child – The Sun | The Sun
16th January 2023

PARENTS in the past may have resorted to smacking their children if they thought they were misbehaving.

However, there is now bans on this practice in many UK countries which could lead to a prison sentence. This is what we know.

What is the law on smacking your child in the UK?

It is legal for a carer or parent to smack their own child to what amounts to "reasonable punishment" according to section 58 of the Children Act 2004.

However, any punishment above what is considered "reasonable" is illegal.

The problem is, some people don't know what "reasonable punishment" means – with the age of the child and the force of the smack also being taken into account.

Hitting a child in a way which causes wounding, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm or child cruelty are all illegal.

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And the smacking of kids by teachers, nursery workers and child care workers – which was once allowed – is now banned.

The Child Law Advice states:

It is against the law for a parent or carer to smack their child, except where this 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.

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.

There are strict guidelines covering the use of reasonable punishment and it will not be possible to rely on the defence if you use severe physical punishment on your child which amounts to wounding, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm or child cruelty.

However, if somebody is employed privately by the child's parents – for example as a babysitter or nanny – they may be given permission to smack.

Because of the confusion surrounding what is or isn't an offence, the Director of Public Prosecutions for England and Wales has produced a charging standard.

For even more serious injuries – resulting in cuts, multiple bruising, fractures, broken bones, broken teeth or loss of conscious – a parent could be charged under Actual Bodily Harm.

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Sweden became the first country in the world to ban smacking in the home in 1979 when it outlawed corporal punishment.

Rights of Children and Young Persons (Wales) Measure 2011 was passed, it broke new ground. We were brave enough to be the first in the UK, and amongst only a few in Europe and the World, to put such arrangements in place. I’m determined to continue to deliver on this commitment.

“Our understanding of what is needed to protect and support children and their families has changed considerably over the years, and societal norms have changed as a result.

"It can no longer be acceptable in a modern and progressive society for children to be physically punished. It is right that as a Government, we take action to protect children and support parents to use positive and effective alternatives to physical punishment.”

Injuries which could be counted as common assault:

  • Grazes
  • Scratches
  • Abrasions
  • Minor bruising
  • Swellings
  • Reddening of the skin
  • Superficial cuts
  • A 'black' eye

Can you go to jail for slapping your child?

Scotland has banned smacking children.

The Children (Equal Protection from Assualt) Act 2019, which came into force on November 7, 2020, bans physical punishment and discipline of children.

Scottish ministers removed the legal defence of "reasonable chastisement" which allowed parents to smack a child under 16.

The Government has even advised Scots who see a parent smacking their child to call 999 and report a crime.

Under the headline "if you see someone physically punishing their child", the advice said: "You should call 999 to report a crime in progress or if a child or young person is in immediate danger.

"You can also call the police on 101 if you think a crime has been committed."

Scotland was the first UK nation to ban all physical punishment of children.

Wales also aprroved a ban on this, which came into force in 2022.

Welsh Minister for Children Huw Irranca-Davies says that there is no place for physical punishment of children in a modern and progressive Wales.

Wales Online quote him as saying: "The Welsh Government is rightly proud of its record of promoting children’s rights and working to ensure all children in Wales have the best start in life.

“As Minister for Children, I’ll work to ensure the rights of every child and young person in Wales are respected so they can grow up to lead happy, healthy lives and to be responsible, active citizens.

England currently has no law against smacking children, which means parents are unlikely ifthey smack children through the defence of "reasonable chastisement."

Child charity NSPCC are against smacking, and claim the habit:

  • Gives kids a bad example of how to handle strong emotions
  • May lead kids to hit or bully other children
  • May encourage kids to lie because they fear being smacked
  • May make defiant behaviour even worse
  • Leads to a resentful or angry child, thus damaging the family relationship.

Is child smacking assault?

In October 2017 a dad who allegedly smacked his five-year-old son on the bottom for breaking a plant pot was charged with assault.

The 25-year-old man claimed he had smacked the child as a reasonable chastisement – but has now appeared in court on charges of assault causing actual bodily harm.

Prosecutor Christine Hart said that bruising had appeared on the young boy after the alleged assault on May 23.

But defence lawyer Greg Peters said his client did not accept the bruising had been caused by the smack at the man's home in Chard, Somerset.

Somerset Magistrates' Court in Yeovil was told the father, who cannot be named for legal reasons, admitted to hitting the child, but said it was not enough to have caused an injury.

The dad did not enter any pleas.

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