By Sam Ruby
The Government has rejected the recommendations of two Parliamentary Committees that parents should be banned from smacking their children. So it is an outrage for a husband to hit his wife and cruelty when someone kicks a pet dog
- yet it is okay for adults to physically hurt children?
On this issue reason and logic have never played a part in the decisions of policy makers.
The idea that smacking a child - occasionally or frequently - is a form of child abuse is one that many people, particularly parents, find upsetting. So the Government wants to avoid upset - 50% of parents admit to having used physical punishment. Still, a Government that really cared about children would be prepared to take face the - unavoidable - upset.
A ban on smacking would be a clear message that physical punishment is wrong. Such bans must help to stop child abuse. In Sweden, where a ban exists, there are hardly any deaths of children from physical abuse.
The new Minister for Children, Margaret Hodge, said a ban would ensure "a culture of CCTV cameras in every home with a child". That is ridiculous demagogy. Countries which have this legislation have avoided criminalising parents who have resorted to the "occasional smack", so why can't we do that here?
And Margaret Hodge thinks a ban on smacking "goes too far"?
No. The carer of Victoria Climbie went "too far" when her "little slaps" escalated into abuse and finally the murder of a once beautiful and happy little girl.
It is "going too far" when 80 children in England die from abuse each year.
Smacking children is wrong because, as the Human Rights Committee put it, children should be accorded the basic human right to be free from physical assault. But children are still not seen as full members of human society. The rights they do have are supervised by adults who often cannot see things from a child's point of view, or who work in a system that is set up to undermine everyone's rights.
In the case of Victoria Climbie, many social workers, housing officers, police officers and health professionals failed to see that a child who stands to attention in front of the woman who is her 'carer' and then wets herself is a child that is desperately unhappy, a child that is a victim.
People who recommend smacking as part of a 'programme' of 'loving discipline' or some other such crap make the same fault - they do not see the world from a child's point of view.
One of the most telling facts about smacking is that it is most often used against toddlers - the 'terrible twos'. Two-year-olds are not 'terrible'. How can a person so small, who cannot yet reason, or even 'answer back', be 'terrible'? Toddlers are people who have entered a difficult stage of human development. They have an absolute biological need to test the boundaries of their world and assert their independence. Small wonder that parents become exasperated. However, the continuing belief that a quick slap here and there will help 'socialise' a toddler is a pernicious nonsense.
If a child has a tantrum, and is slapped for it, what can that teach except that feelings of anger or frustration are 'bad'. And it is saying that giving in to the impulse to physical violence - impulses that adults, but not toddlers, have control over - is right.
A difficult question remains. Why do adults resort to violence - the easy option? Sometimes people say, "the odd slap never did me any harm." But the fact that they continue to countenance violence is sure evidence that the 'odd slap'" did do them harm!
Parenting is a difficult job. More difficult if you are a single parent - parents who have no partner for support are more likely to smack. Being a parent often coincides with other stresses, like inadequate housing and financial hardship. Stresses can destroy the confidence of parents and put relationships under strain. But none of this is an excuse or even all of the reason for smacking - after all, children of all classes are hit.
We now have a Minister for Children who does not respect the rights of children. But what can we expect from a Government which promised to eradicate child poverty but in fact has made it worse. A Government that has given, in relative terms, pennies to projects that help parents learn how to do something that is not instinctive - that is, to parent. A Government that has presided over deep cuts in the budgets of Social Services.
There is likely to be a private members bill in the autumn to ban smacking. Socialists should add our voice to campaigns to stop smacking, and all forms of child abuse.