Children’s doctors back removal of Northern Ireland’s ‘reasonable punishment’ defence

Children's doctors back removal of Northern Ireland's 'reasonable punishment' defence

Northern Ireland parents should no longer be able to avail of the “reasonable punishment” defence to justify physically punishing a child, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) has said.

A new report published by the charity, which represents children’s doctors in the UK, calls for England and Northern Ireland to join Scotland, Wales and more than 60 other jurisdictions in prohibiting all physical punishment of children in all circumstances.

The report, Equal protection from assault in England and Northern Ireland: The health, education, and legal case for legislative change to remove the “reasonable punishment” defence and to prohibit all physical punishment of children, highlights the range of harms to children and safeguarding complications caused by the existing law.

It urges Northern Ireland’s education and health ministers to amend the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 to remove the reasonable punishment defence from Northern Ireland law.

Professor Andrew Rowland, RCPCH officer for child protection and consultant paediatrician, said: “The laws around physical punishment as they stand are unjust and dangerously vague. They create a grey area in which some forms of physical punishment may be lawful, and some are not.

“As a paediatrician working in child protection services, I am regularly faced with situations where it is alleged that physical punishment has been used against a child. The vague nature of the laws make it extremely challenging to talk to families about what the rules are around physical punishment of children, thus making it more difficult to talk about the best interests of their children. This lack of legislative clarity can even add an extra layer of complexity when trying to identify cases of child abuse.”

He added: “There must be no grey areas when it comes to safeguarding children. Changing the laws in England and Northern Ireland will give us absolute clarity and ensure there are no instances where it is acceptable or lawful to smack a child.

“Ahead of a UK general election, this is the perfect opportunity for all political parties in England and Northern Ireland to make meaningful commitments on this important children’s rights issue, and signal to young people and those who serve them that championing their wellbeing and safety will be a priority for any incoming government.”

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