NORTHERN Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley, today pledged to continue efforts to effectively protect children and young people from all kinds of physical punishment.
“The court action I took was not about criminalising parents, it was and continues to be about protecting children,” said Ms Lewsley.
“The law as it stands makes it illegal to hit a child, but a defence is available to parents to a charge of common assault of a child.
“I believe that is unclear, confusing for parents, and needs to be reformed. It should be clear that there is to be no more hitting of children in Northern Ireland.”
The Commissioner stated that she will not be pursuing further legal action at this time because of current financial constraints but will continue with efforts to persuade Government to remove any defence there is for an assault on a child, no matter the circumstance.
“I am disappointed that I cannot continue my legal efforts to end the unequal treatment of children who suffer an assault. However, I will continue my efforts to make sure that children have equal treatment and protection in law,” she said.
“I am frustrated that the Court of Appeal was not able to consider all aspects of the case. The Court did not consider the issue of Physical Punishment, in the main, due to a technicality in that I do not have what is called victim status, meaning that I cannot represent or act on behalf of all children and young people in taking a case to court under the Human Rights Act.
“When the Assembly set up my role, it said that the job of Commissioner was to promote and safeguard the rights and best interests of children and young people.
“I and everyone who has supported me in this action want the message to be clear that hitting children is wrong. It has already been banned in dozens of countries worldwide, and we are lagging behind.
“The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child says there should be no defence for hitting a child. The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health says hitting is wrong. My fellow commissioners in England, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland are also against it for the same reasons.
“We know research has shown that parents do not feel good about doing this and most importantly, children themselves have told me that hitting should stop.”
The Commissioner said she was grateful for the support she has received from individuals and organisations in her efforts to give children the same protection as adults receive.
“Parents, professionals, voluntary organisations – all have been in contact with me urging me to continue my efforts.
“In the same way as hitting adult partners was made illegal and without any defence, I am confident that one day there will be no defence for hitting a child. In the meantime I will focus efforts to help parents consider alternative and better ways to discipline their children,” added Ms Lewsley.
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Notes to Editors:
- The Youth Panel interviewed the Commissioner about the decision and you can view this on the NICCY Youth Panel Channel on Youtube.
- NICCY challenged the law which gives a defence to hitting children because it strongly believes that children and young people should have equal protection against common assault.
- Calling for a ban on all physical punishment of children does not mean there would be a wave of prosecutions of parents; the aim is to stop degrading, cruel treatment of children through educational, not punitive, interventions.
- The Court of Appeal said that although the Commissioner’s arguments were persuasive, they could not decide upon the arguments because they ruled the Commissioner is not a ‘victim’ for the purposes of the Human Rights Act.
- Judge Gillen said in the High Court that this was a matter of great public importance; it was entirely responsible that the Commissioner took the case and that if the Commissioner could not, who could?
- In deciding whether the case should continue to the House of Lords, all the criteria was met except one, the availability of financial resources. Nothing else had changed since NICCY started the case in 2006.
- The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reported last October that the UK must take immediate steps to ban all physical punishment of children.
- Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have called for a ban on physical punishment of children.
- Children themselves think that hitting should stop, and see physical discipline as something painful which happens when parents are angry and stressed. [From NSPCC/ Barnardo’s/ NICCY Report 2008]