Today on BBC Wales Sunday Supplement I was interviewed about the "smacking ban" amendment to the proposed Domestic Violence Bill in the Assembly. You can hear the argument for and against here (you may need to cut and paste the link)
scroll through to 30 minutes. The arguments of campaigners for a ban say that a child should be given the same rights as an adult - no matter what age that child is. To my mind this is simply wrong. Any parent of a toddler will know that feeling of fright when one minute they are next to you and the next minute they are gone - running out into the road - or in my case that total silence of my 3 year old, when I went to see what she was up to, she had my bunch of keys and was about to put them into an electric socket which was halfway up the wall - having climbed onto the sofa to do so.
It is absolutely clear that if you give your child anything more than a short sharp tap it is already illegal, if there is a bruise or anything other than a temporary red mark, you risk being investigated and charged by the police. The CPS charging standards say that where there is bruising a parent should be prosecuted. What is being argued for in the Assembly is what is known as a strict liability offence, which means no matter what the circumstances, if you smack your child you are a criminal and you could have a criminal record. I don't think this is right as it will criminalise many loving parents, who care deeply about their children. The current law provides a defence of "reasonable" punishment - this means that a jury or magistrate can look behind the smack, and see why the parent did it. If their child ran out into the road, or was about to give themselves a huge electric shock, they can decide that the parent acted reasonably. The current amendment would mean that would no longer be possible. I think that is totally wrong and will not be supporting it. I would rather trust 12 citizens to judge me, so they can apply the standards of reasonableness that apply at the time than a blanket criminal offence that makes every parent a criminal as soon as they smack a child and relies upon a police officer not charging.
I in no way condone violence against children, and a beating is clearly illegal now. However the argument that education doesn't work is wrong. We don't have education on healthy relationships, or very little of it. Welsh Government have resisted the idea of every school having to teach about respect and health relationships - but locking up mothers or fathers for a short sharp tap is absolutely not the answer. Through education change will happen, that is the route that we should promote as children do not have the same rights as adults, as anyone who has been the parent of a toddler will know, and the parents that are most likely to be criminalised will be those less able to talk themselves out of prosecution. It would quite simply be wrong to turn many loving and caring parents into criminals.