THE Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Nigel Williams, today called for renewed debate to end the physical punishment of children.

22 January 2006 News

Mr Williams made his call as all four UK children’s commissioners issued a joint statement calling on Government to remove completely, throughout the UK, any defence of reasonable punishment when children are hit by their parents.

“Parenting is a difficult job, and children need guidelines and boundaries but hitting should not be the way to approach discipline,” the Commissioner said.

“I believe that it is time to look at how we provide direct, positive support to parents and believe the Government should look at helping parents through policy and resources.”

Mr Williams’ research team is currently examining how often it takes place, attitudes to physical punishment, and looking at the ways that parents can be supported in developing alternative methods of disciplining their children.

“The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child clearly states in Article 19 that children should not be hurt, and it is clear from research throughout the UK that children are hurt physically and emotionally when they are hit by their parents,” said the Commissioner.

“The joint statement being issued by all the UK commissioners should be a wake up call to Government. There should be no halfway house.”

Mr Williams said that he disagreed with Lord Rooker’s proposal to bring Northern Ireland in line with legislation in England and Wales, which has changed but not removed the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’.

However, Mr Williams said he hoped the debate on these proposals would provide the opportunity for politicians and policy makers to consider ending physical punishment and promoting positive parenting.

Notes for Editors

See below for joint statement


Children are the only people in the UK who can still be hit without consequence. The current and previous governments have made welcome progress by prohibiting all corporal punishment of children in schools, other institutions and forms of alternative care. In relation to parental corporal punishment, in England, Wales and Scotland the ancient common law defence of “reasonable chastisement” has been limited, but not removed completely; and in Northern Ireland the government have indicated that they plan to bring the law into line with that in England and Wales.

Children have the same right as adults to respect for their human dignity and physical integrity and to equal protection under the law, in the home and everywhere else. There is no room for compromise, for attempting to define “acceptable” smacking. This has been confirmed by United Nations and Council of Europe human rights monitoring mechanisms, and by the Westminster Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. The UK has been told repeatedly since 1995 that to comply with its human rights obligations, the reasonable punishment defence must be removed completely in all four countries of the UK.

This long overdue reform for children is becoming inevitable, and we urge the government to promote consistent legislation throughout the UK. It can count on our vocal support and also that of the strongest and broadest alliance of professional and other organizations ever formed around an issue for children.

Central to our task as Children’s Commissioners is promoting respect for children as people. We are very concerned that parents should get help and advice to promote positive approaches to discipline, and how to set and enforce appropriate boundaries for children’s behaviour.

We believe that condoning smacking gets in the way of progress. It confuses parents, inhibits child protection and undermines the promotion of positive forms of discipline. It conflicts with our governments’ aspirations for children and our society. Research with young children across the four countries has shown how upsetting they find smacking and adult approval of it.

The European Network of Ombudspersons for Children adopted a position statement in 1991, urging all governments in Europe without delay to introduce legislation prohibiting all corporal punishment, and initiate or support education programmes in positive, non-violent forms of discipline. More than one third of Council of Europe member states have explicitly prohibited all corporal punishment, and others are committed to doing so in the near future. We know from colleagues across Europe that once governments grasp the nettle, reform their law and link reform with public education, attitudes quickly begin to change.

We call upon Government to allow further debate and free votes in the relevant parliamentary assemblies to introduce legislation that will ban the defense of reasonable chastisement throughout the UK. This should be supported with policy and resources to promote positive parenting.


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  • All the Children’s Commissioners are part of BINOCC – find out more here
  • The English Children’s Commissioner’s website is here
  • Web info on the Welsh Children’s Commissioner is here
  • The Republic of Ireland’s Children’s Commissioner’s website is here
  • To find out more about the Scottish Children’s Commissioner click here