15 Jun 2006

THE Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Barney McNeany today said legislation introduced by Government effectively means children can continue to be assaulted by their parents.

Under the new legislation a defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ can be used if a child suffers a common assault from parents, but is removed from more serious assaults.

“While this Order offers some limited form of protection for children we are disappointed that the Government has not completely removed the defence of reasonable chastisement,” said the Commissioner.

“While parenting is rewarding I know, as a parent, it can also be a difficult job, and children need guidelines and boundaries but hitting should not be the way to approach discipline.

“I believe that it is time to look at how we provide direct, positive support to parents. That’s why we have been asking the Government to improve its help for families through both policy and resources.”

Mr McNeany said that all four UK Children’s Commissioners had called for an end to physical punishment, the Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights has urged governments across the EU to end the practice, and the United Nations Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child has repeatedly said it should be stopped.

“Under Article 19 of the United Convention on the Rights of the Child governments are supposed to make sure that children are protected from violence, abuse or neglect by their parents or anyone else who looks after them,” said the Commissioner. “And under Article 37 of the convention children should be protected from all types of degrading treatment and punishment.

”It is clear from research throughout the UK and from what young people have told NICCY that children are hurt physically and emotionally when they are hit by their parents.

“As one young person told us: ‘It’s not fair – another adult wouldn’t be able to hit an adult, but an adult’s allowed to hit a child’.”

Notes to Editors

  • The most recent NICCY news release on physical punishment (including a joint statement from 4 UK Commissioners for Children) is available here
  • There is an area on the NICCY website describing our priority area on physical punishment. It can be found here
  • More details on the work of the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People can be found here on the web site
  • The Legislation can be found here
  • (Full Bill) and the Explanatory Note is here 
  • The DFP press release can be viewed here
  • A Statement from Council of Europe on physical punishment was issued on 13th June, 2006: it reads:

COUNCIL OF EUROPE: Commissioner for Human Rights Publishes Paper on Corporal Punishment [publication]

Last week the Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, published an issue paper on corporal punishment and children. This document is the first in a series of periodical issue papers on cross-cutting European themes:

“As part of their daily lives, children all over Europe are spanked, slapped, hit, smacked, shaken, kicked, pinched, punched, caned, flogged, belted, beaten and battered by adults – mainly by those whom they trust the most.

This violence may be a deliberate act of punishment or just the impulsive reaction of an irritated parent or teacher. In every case, it is a breach of fundamental human rights principles. Respect for human dignity and the right to physical integrity are universal principles. Yet social and legal acceptance of the hitting and other humiliating treatment of children by adults persists in most countries.

Corporal punishment of children often becomes inhuman or degrading, and it always violates their physical integrity, demonstrates disrespect for human dignity and undermines self-esteem. Furthermore, the existence of special exceptions for violent ill-treatment of children in otherwise universally applicable laws against assault breaches the principle of equal protection under the law.”

Read the full issue paper here