Ban Smacking of Children... Now

09/10/2013 15:38 BST | Updated 23/01/2014 23:58 GMT

It is 10 years since the Welsh Government signalled its intention to remove the defence of what is now termed "reasonable punishment" as an acceptable reason for inflicting a physical assault on children.

But despite two clear majorities in Assembly debates, firstly in 2004 and then two years ago, we are no nearer banning the smacking of children. This Labour administration is dragging its feet and that means that young people are continuing to be subject to physical violence.

The Labour government in Wales has made it clear that they are prepared to sit on its hands with no plans to introduce legislation before the next Assembly elections in 2016 and with no guarantee that they will do anything positive after that date.

Instead, they have come up with weak-kneed proposals to try to educate parents into adopting alternatives to the physical disciplining of children.

As a parent I never smacked my daughter. Children can be infuriating, naughty, irritable and downright rude but that is no excuse for physical violence. I would rightly be taken to court if I slapped an adult, for instance, across the face. However, it is not unlawful for me to go home and smack my child hard. That can't be right.

I do appreciate that there are many parents who believe it is their right to control their own children. I agree. However, the majority of decent parents will hopefully understand my efforts are genuinely trying to ensure that those unfortunate children who live in a violent household do not suffer any longer. Only time will tell if this is successful. In my opinion it is the only way to prevent those terrible headlines we read about children and young babies who die at the hands of adults.

Major children's charities have reported in the past that one child a week dies in Wales and England due to abuse. The Welsh Government's continuing failure to back up the declared view of Assembly Members vote to banish smacking, backed with legislation, flies in the face of a host of organisations, including Wales' Children's Commissioner, that are campaigning to outlaw the smacking of children. The government is contravening the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Smacking children has now been banned in at least 30 countries, including 16 within the European Union. We in the UK remain in the dark ages.

Removing parents' defence of 'reasonable punishment' for smacking will criminalise any assault of a child in exactly the same way as hitting, poking, pushing or threatening an adult is criminalised at the moment. No new offence will be created; children will just get the same legal protection the rest of us already enjoy.

Social services have to investigate all allegations of child abuse but they only intervene if they believe the child is suffering or at risk of significant harm. These duties would remain exactly the same after a ban.

Those who either abstained or voted against the all-party motion two years ago, along with some unenlightened groups and individuals, continue to trot out the same old, tired arguments. They were smacked as a child and 'it didn't do me any harm'.

Where is the firm evidence to support that statement? In fact, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence that children in the past have suffered mentally as well as physically as a result of having to live with physically aggressive parents.

There are people in their 60's who still smoke but that doesn't undermine the undeniable evidence that smoking is the cause of thousands of premature deaths in Wales every year. Times have moved on - it is 2013.

Surely, after more than a decade of the Welsh Government expressing its wish to ban the smacking of children, it's now time to act. So what's stopping the Labour administration - many of whom voted in favour of a ban - from taking action?

Could it be that they are afraid of offending a few people? At first, a lot of voters didn't like the law about the compulsory wearing of seat-belts or the 5p surcharge for plastic shopping bags or banning smoking inside public places such as pubs and restaurants. But they have all been accepted as the right thing to do.

Not all that long ago, the physical abuse of women by their partners was dismissed as just a domestic incident. Now we would all be appalled if domestic violence was treated in this cavalier way by the police and the courts. After we have banned the physical assaults on children by adults we will look back in horror to think that the Welsh Government pussy-footed around for years before it took any legal action.

We in Wales have an opportunity to show the rest of the UK that we care about our children and how they will develop as adults. There is clear evidence that the vast majority of children who are smacked by parents and carers grow up to believe that physical aggression is acceptable behaviour. It is not.

That's why, with the support of members from other parties in the Assembly, I shall be pressing for an amendment to the Social Services and Well-being Wales Bill to include a statement that will outlaw the smacking of children in Wales.

Wales has led the way in the UK on free bus passes, free prescriptions and reducing the use of plastic bags through the introduction of a 5p charge. It should lead on this subject.

I hope fellow Assembly Members will ensure that legislation is introduced speedily - and not allowed to drift while more young people are victims of physical assault. It is never acceptable to impose violence on children and it's time we acted to stop it.