Spare the rod

TO SPANK or not to spank a child is a difficult question, better understood by a parent than by a theorist. One school of thought says, "spare the rod and spoil the child", while the other school forbids any form of 'reasonable chastisement'. Doubtless to say, a child's rights must be protected, but don't parents have their rights - to love and to discipline as part of this love?

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Published: Sat 10 Jul 2004, 10:38 AM

Last updated: Thu 2 Apr 2015, 1:22 AM

Britain's House of Lords has addressed precisely this dilemma when it rejected an outright ban on spanking children, and backed a compromise allowing parents to resort to 'mild smacking'. The compromise was in accordance with the UK government's request to the peers, before they voted on the issue, to reject a total ban on the grounds that it would criminalise parents who smack their disobedient children. Prime Minister Tony Blair's position is that a full ban on smacking would be an unacceptable intrusion into family life, which would inevitably lead to parents ending up before a judge for minor slaps. However, support for a ban - similar to the ones already in place in a dozen European countries including Germany and Sweden - is strong among members of the public and Blair's Labour Party. According to them, hitting is hitting, whether mild or hard, and it should be banned.

They argue that children have the same protection as adults under the law on assault. It has been seen that physical punishment is some cases can escalate and turn into abuse. Besides, it sends a clear message to children that might is right, that physical force would make people behave in the way they want them to. This in turn would lead to a very violent society. Scientists buttress the case against smacking with evidence that everyone tends to underestimate the power of their physical actions because of the way the human brain is programmed. That is to say, parents may smack their children much harder than they intend to. Indeed, the middle path chosen by the House of Lords marks the beginning of a new debate on smacking.

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