Slapping outlawed as final defence removed in Ireland

Category: Equal protection from violence

27th October 2015

The move to abolish the justification of 'reasonable chastisement' means Ireland has become the 20th EU member state, and 47th country, to outlaw physical punishment, either directly by outright ban, or indirectly, as in this case.

The law has been changed to clarify a grey area that persisted for 155 years around physical punishment by parents and guardians. The change will take effect when the Children First Bill becomes law, as it cannot be applied retrospectively, but that is expected to happen within months.

Independent Senator, Jillian Van Turnhout, former head of the Children's Rights Alliance, who proposed the amendment, saw it approved yesterday without challenge.

She said it removed the anomaly that allowed violence to be perpetrated against children but not against adults, saying "With this amendment, all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law".

Children's Minister James Reilly formally moved the amendment, after backing Senator Van Turnhout's initiative, saying the defence of reasonable chastisement belonged to a different era.

"From a child's perspective, there is nothing reasonable about being on the receiving end of corporal punishment," he said.

Children's charities welcomed the move, which they said was long overdue. Grainia Long, ISPCC chief executive, said: "We know, from engaging with children on a daily basis through our Childline service, that physical abuse is a pervasive and ongoing issue in the lives of some. By allowing this defence to continue, society was saying that it is okay to harm a child. This amendment to legislation is a statement of intent and we welcome it wholeheartedly."

Scotland's provision of 'justifiable assault'

Despite recommendations during the last UK examination and international calls to prohibit all forms of corporal punishment, children in Scotland continue to have less protection from violence than adults. Key opportunities have been missed to give children equal protection and the provision of "justifiable assault" remains in Scots law. This permits a defence for parents if they physically assault a child. A survey of 1021 adults found that 60% thought that children should have more protection from assault than adults, and 32% thought that children and adults should have the same amount of protection from assault. There is limited evidence on children's views relating to physical punishment. Scottish Government has no intention to change the law, stating that it "does not support smacking as a way of disciplining children but does not consider it appropriate to criminalise parents for lightly smacking their children." However, the provision of a new criminal offence is not required but rather a simple legal reform to remove the defence of "justifiable assault" in law.

Recommendations on this can be found in Together's NGO alternative report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

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