Slapping outlawed as final defence removed

No excuse for slapping a child will be accepted by the courts henceforth. The law has been changed to clarify a grey area that persisted for 155 years around physical punishment by parents and minders.

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 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. “With this amendment, all citizens are equal in the eyes of the law,” she said.

Independent Senator, Jillian Van Turnhout
Independent Senator, Jillian Van Turnhout

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. The amendment would have long-lasting effects, he said. “It will convey a strong message, which will, I hope, lead to a cultural change across Ireland that corporal punishment is wrong.”

Mr Reilly paid tribute to the late John Boland, former minister for education, who banned corporal punishment in schools in 1982. He also acknowledged the work of Cork-born GP, Dr Cyril Daly, who died in August, and who campaigned tirelessly from the 1960s for the abolition of corporal punishment.

Children’s Minister James Reilly
Children’s Minister James Reilly 

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.”

Tanya Ward, chief executive of Children’s Rights Alliance, said: “Today’s change is a giant leap forward in protecting our children. We know that corporal punishment causes harm to children and it’s ineffective in disciplining them. Children have a right to be protected from all forms of violence and this change now makes them equal before the law.”

Tanya Ward, chief executive of Children’s Rights Alliance
Tanya Ward, chief executive of Children’s Rights Alliance

Senator Van Turnhout’s campaign to abolish the defence of reasonable chastisement received a boost in May, when the European Committee on Social Rights ruled the defence was incompatible with EU law.

Ireland has also been facing the prospect of justifying the defence when it comes before a committee, in January, reviewing compliance with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Parents and minders seeking help with child discipline can get tips from the ISPCC by referring to the ‘advice’ section on www.ispcc.ie.

Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, has published ‘50 Key Messages For Supporting Parenting’, which is available to download from www.tusla.ie by clicking on the ‘publications’ section and scrolling to the ‘K’ listings.


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