The days of fear of the wooden spoon may soon be over as Irish Minister for Children Dr. James Reilly is seeking the removal of the defense of “reasonable chastisement” from Irish law, effectively banning parents from slapping their children.
Although legislation allowing parents to use force on their children was repealed in Ireland 15 years ago, the defense of reasonable chastisement is still part of common law, applying to parents or child carers and allowing them to argue that any force used was a reasonable form of punishment.
“If you strike a child currently you can be prosecuted under the Offence against the Person Act,” Chief Executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) Grainia Long told Newstalk.com's "Breakfast" show.
“At the moment there is a defense that can be made and that’s the defense of reasonable chastisement so if you strike a child and you are prosecuted under that piece of legislation you can say ‘well, I was acting reasonably and I was chastising my child.’
“Ireland is unusual in maintaining that on our statute books - that common law defense.”
Only 46 countries worldwide have completely banned corporal punishment of children. The US, Canada and Australia are among the countries where corporal punishment is still legal. Nineteen states still allow corporal punishment in school, although in most places parental permission is required. The Washington Post reports that according to figures from the 2009 to 2010 school year there are as many as 150,840 instances of corporal punishment in American schools.
Although no other laws will be introduced and no new offense will be created that explicitly bans the smacking of children, Dr Reilly asserts that by removing the reasonable chastisement defense it will effectively be banned.
“There is no new offense being created, there is no fresh legislation being created for a corporal punishment ban,” a source told the Irish Times.
“We already have laws to prevent us from hitting one another. The new initiative would prevent persons, charged under laws already in place, from having recourse to the defense of reasonable chastisement.”
Earlier this year, the Council of Europe ruled that as there is no definite law in Ireland banning parents or child carers from smacking the children in their care, the rights of young people were violated.
Following the ruling, Minister Reilly said he would review Irish legislation surrounding the use of force on children with the Department of Justice. There is a ban in place on smacking children in most other European countries.
“We have been criticized internationally for that and this is a really important step in protecting children,” ISPCC's Long said.
The ISPCC and other child advocacy groups have welcomed the proposal, although they have expressed some concern that the lack of legislation explicitly banning the slapping of children leaves a “gray area” that should be addressed.
“The European Social Charter, which we have signed and which is a very important Charter in terms of social rights, is really clear about the need to protect children from violence so that’s the starting point here – how do we protect children from violence. One of the ways to do that is to make sure that our laws are clear,” continued Long.
“One of the reasons we are really strongly welcoming this is, this change, which is being proposed by Minister Reilly is because there is a gray area in terms of the protection of children under the law and there never should be. We should be really clear about what is right and about what is wrong when we talk about children and their protection.
“A lot of people in Ireland do not view slapping as an effective way to discipline a child, but also three in five adults believe it is already illegal to slap a child so in many ways behavior and attitudes are ahead of the pace. What we need to do is to bring the law in step with how we are already behaving.”
When questioned about a parent’s argument that a slap should just be used on very rare occasions, and that it was not a form of abuse but a scare tactic she said, “Last year there were 30,000 calls to Childline in relation to violence and abuse and 7,500 of those were in relation to physical punishment. There is a lot of gray area here.”
Do you think parents should be banned from slapping their children ? No. 60% of voters agree with me. http://t.co/NLFXmvZ2Ud— mryap (@mryap) October 19, 2015
“It tends to come back very quickly to what the parent needs when actually we can show from our experience working with children that any kind of violence hurts a child. It scares them, we work with children every day and not just the immediate impact but the long-term impact. Children grow up with the notion then that you can sort things out by violence, that aggression is ok and it has an effect on the long-term development.”
The Minister is expected to seek Cabinet approval as early as next week to draft a Bill making the change.
Earlier this year, IrishCentral conducted a poll among its readers asking “Should Ireland make it illegal for parents to smack their children?” The majority of our readers felt that Ireland should not ban all corporal punishment against children with only 37 percent voting for a ban of parents smacking children.
Do you agree with our reader survey? Should Ireland outlaw corporal punishment against children entirely? Let us know what you think in the comment section.