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Developments in Wales

Children are Unbeatable (logo) 8cmNovember 2017 to April 2018 In November 2017, Minister for Children and Social Care, Huw Irranca-Davies AM, reaffirmed the Welsh Government’s manifesto commitment to introduce legislation to remove the defence of reasonable punishment.  Speaking ahead of an event to mark Universal Children’s Day, the Minister said “Our understanding of what is needed to protect and support children and their families has changed considerably over the years, and societal norms have changed as a result. It can no longer be acceptable in a modern and progressive society for children to be physically punished. It is right that as a Government, we take action to protect children and support parents to use positive and effective alternatives to physical punishment.” 

On 09 January 2018, the Welsh Government launched  its proposals for consultation. The aim of the legislative proposal is not to create a new offence but to remove the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ available to parents and some other adults facing a charge  of assault and battery, giving children the same legal protection as adults. 

The consultation document covers several decades of research showing that corporal punishment increases the risk of poor outcomes for children, and that physical punishment of children is incompatible with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), to which the UK is a signatory.  

Physical punishment, the consultation noted, is not a required part of discipline. It highlighted alternatives – including positive, authoritative parenting approaches, and programmes like Triple P and Incredible Years – and asked for views on how best to support families and professionals when the law is changed. 

The consultation ends on the 02 April 2018. In addition to the paper consultation process, the Welsh Government commissioned three consultation engagement events, in Swansea, Llandudno and Nantgarwf over the month of March to gather views on the proposal. 

Children Are Unbeatable! Cymru’s briefing paper gives further background on the principle of equal protection, the ‘s proposed legislation and addresses some frequently asked questions about what it might mean for parents and children. An outline consultation response, as a guide to individuals and organisations who want to respond to the Welsh Government’s consultation is also available.

Outside the consultation, Children Are Unbeatable! Cymru, met two visiting paediatricians from Sweden, who were kind enough to give their experience on the ban of corporal punishment in Sweden, at a meeting hosted by Children in Wales. Drs. Gabi Otterman and Steven Lucas work in child protection and had worked on evaluating  the effectiveness of prohibiting physical punishment in Sweden. During the meeting they confirmed what other international experts had told us: that in their opinion the legislation should be  concise and clear. 

March 2014  The strength of the debate and our discussions with AMs confirm that the majority are in favour of removing the ‘reasonable punishment’ defence in the case of assaults against children. We know that it is a question of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’ Wales takes this next step. We’ll be looking for the next opportunity and keeping up the pressure. It’s important that supporters do all they can to highlight  the issue.

February 2014 Lyndsay Whittle AM tables and amendment to Stage 3 of the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales)  Bill to remove the ‘reasonable punishment’ defence (Section 58, Children Act 2004).  Despite a lively debate, the outcome of the vote was very different to previous occasions where AMs were allowed a free vote.  All Labour AMs were ordered to vote against the amendment and concerns,raised by the Welsh Government, that including the amendment would delay this legislation had an impact on the voting of others.  All Labour AMs voted Against, all Plaid Cymru AMs voted For, as did three Liberal Democrat AMs; and one Conservative AM abstained.

Welsh Government were pressed to give an assurance that there would be another opportunity to introduce legislation within the current Assembly term.  In her response, Deputy Minister for Social Services, Gwenda Thomas AM said:

“While there will be other legislative opportunities in the future that will be more appropriate for effecting a ban on the physical punishment of children, the Government is clear that it could not support any amendment to the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill to achieve this aim. A change of this nature, without appropriate public consultation, would not be the right thing to do. Whether, and when, a suitable legislative opportunity does arise will depend to a degree on the outcome of the current Welsh Labour consultation exercise on this issue, and indications of support for such a change in the law.

“Finally, there will be opportunities to examine this issue in forthcoming legislation in this Assembly term. It would be good, I believe, to work on this on a cross-party basis in the future.”

April – June 2013  During scrutiny of the Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill by the Assembly’s Health and Social Care Committee and Children and Young People Committee, the issue of amending the Bill to include a provision to remove the ‘reasonable punishment’ defence is raised and discussed.

In their report to the Health and Social Care Committee the National Assembly Children and Young People  Committee write:

“the most consistent single issue relevant to children and young people has been highlighted by those consultees who have called for the Bill to amend Section 58 of the Children Act 2004 which relates to ‘reasonable punishment’.”

March 2013   Stage 1 consultation on the Bill closes. There is no specific question on equal protection. Forty-three responses make some reference to children and 20 of those called for such a provision to be included in the Bill. Children Are Unbeatable! Cymru say that the Bill does not deliver its stated objectives as it does not include such a provision.

January 2013 Social Services and Well-being (Wales) Bill is introduced. It does not contain a provision to remove the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ giving children equal protection.

Throughout 2012   The Welsh Government continues to promote positive parenting messages, including through the new Families First scheme and the Flying Start Programme

February 2012 – Christian Statement supporting the removal of the “reasonable punishment” defence signed by church leaders in Wales

November 2011  – Leaders of Muslim organisations at UK level sign a statement of support for law reform to end corporal punishment of children

19 October 2011 – The National Assembly for Wales debated a motion urging the Welsh Government to bring forward legislation to end the availability of the defence of “lawful chastisement” for an offense of assaulting a child. The motion was passed by 24 votes to 15.  In the debate Deputy Minister for Children and Social Services reiterated the Welsh Government’s commitment to make physical punishment of children and young people unacceptable through the promotion of positive alternatives.  However she explained that “A great deal of preparatory work would need to be done to pave the way for legislation of this sort, and we would not be able to bring forward legislation during the term of this Assembly.”

May 2011 – Following elections to the National Assembly for Wales, the Assembly’s new legislative powers come into force.  It is widely agreed that Wales now has the legislative powers to ban smacking.

March 2011  -Rights of Children and Young Persons Measure 2011 gains Royal Assent.  The Measure embeds the UNCRC into law and places a duty on Welsh Ministers to have due regard to the rights of children and young people as defined by the Convention

March 2011 – Wales voted Yes in a referendum on greater legislative powers

November 2009  -Welsh Government published its Action Plan in response to the UN Committee’s concluding observationsGetting it Right.   Priority 10 of the Plan is “working to make physical punishment of children and young people illegal in all situations”

June 2009  -Welsh Ministers signed up to the Children are Unbeatable Campaign Statement.  The stated that, “We have a longstanding policy of opposition to corporal punishment and promote positive non-violent forms of discipline. We accept the UN Committee’s recommendation that the reasonable punishment defence ought to be removed so that children and young people can enjoy the same level of protection in law as adults do.”

October 2008 –  Concluding Observations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that the UK State Party “The Committee, while noting amendments to legislation in England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland which restrict the application of the defence of “reasonable chastisement”, is concerned that this defence has not been removed. The Committee welcomes the commitment of the National Assembly in Wales to prohibiting all corporal punishment in the home, but notes that under the terms of devolution it is not possible for the Assembly to enact the necessary legislation.”

April 2008 – Launch of the Help at Hand toolkit.

14 February 2007  – an event was held at the Senedd in Cardiff attended by Jane Hutt AM, the Minister for Children. Peter Newell, Chair of Children are Unbeatable Alliance & End Physical Punishment of Children, spoke on the UN Study on Violence Against Children.  Sam Clutton, Barnardo’s Cymru spoke about  the report on the Help at Hand project.

November 2006 – Help at Hand: Promoting Alternatives to Smacking
Minister for Children Jane Hutt recently launched the final report on “Help at Hand”.  The report provides an evaluation of a programme of activities promoting alternatives to smacking children. Children are Unbeatable! Cymru commissioned a programme of events in Briton Ferry West to evaluate what might change attitudes towards the physical punishment of children, and how to provide advice and support to parents and carers to provide positive, non-violent discipline. Jane Hutt, said:

“I am impressed by the way in which the Help at Hand Week has engaged the whole community here in Briton Ferry – parents, children and professionals. I hope that you will be able to keep that momentum going.  I was particularly interested to hear that parents put a great deal of importance in getting information, support and advice from local sources, such as their health visitors.”

May 2006 – Promoting alternatives to smacking children

Minister for Children, Jane Hutt launched a week-long campaign to promote alternatives to smacking children. The event, organised by `Sdim Curo Plant!/ Children are Unbeatable!, aimed to bring parents together to share their experiences and learn new ways of encouraging good behaviour.

January 2006 – UNCRC Monitoring Group Wales Report 2006 – Corporal Punishment From ‘Righting the Wrongs: the reality of children’s rights in Wales’ (Save the Children, 2006)

May 2004 – Assembly Plenary Debate on the Children Bill.

February 2004 – National Assembly publish ‘Rights to Action’.

January 2004 – fact finding visit to Sweden with Welsh MPs and AMs.

January 14 2004 –Debate on Children’s Green Paper, Amendment 5 “The National Assembly regrets that the UK government continues to retain the defence of reasonable chastisement and has taken no significant action towards prohibiting the physical punishment of children in the family” (In favour 41, Abstain 3, Against 9)

October 2002 – Welsh Assembly Government Cabinet Statement against the physical punishment of children in favour of legal reform and support for parents. WAG then make representations to Westminster, via letters to Ministers, response to Every Child Matters consultation and representations during the passage of the Children Bill in 2004.

February 2002 – Welsh Childminding Regulations which stated that childminders should not hit children in their care.

January 2002 – A short debate in the National Assembly “Hitting people is wrong and children are people too”, chosen by Christine Chapman AM.