Support urged for parents over child discipline

Proposals to firm up the law against slapping children will not go far enough without support for parents struggling with discipling and controlling their offspring, the Children’s Rights Alliance has warned.

The alliance welcomed indications that Children’s Minister James Reilly is going to ask the Cabinet to approve introducing laws that would remove the last remaining defence to slapping a child.

Slapping is a crime under the general Non-Fatal Offences Against the Person Act, 1997, and the Children’s Act, 2001, which makes it an offence to assault or mistreat a child.

However, it is possible for a parent, guardian or minder to seek a dismissal of a charge or reduction of penalty by claiming their actions were reasonable chastisement.

Tanya Ward, the chief executive of the Children’s Rights Alliance, said while an outright prohibition on slapping, such as exists in many other European countries, was preferable, the proposed change was very welcome.

“It is getting rid of the get-out clause. I think what they’ll need to do is follow up with public information for people to that there is complete clarity about what the law says and also you need to support parents in using non-violent forms of discipline,” she said.

“We did a poll with the ISPCC which was published two years ago and found 78% of parents were looking for more information and support around alternative forms of discipline.

“That’s something we need to invest in alongside changing the law. It’s not fair on parents if you don’t support them at the same time as changing the law.”

Dr Reilly is expected to ask the Cabinet to allow him deal with the removal of the defence of reasonable chastisement through the Children’s First Bill which is working its way through the Oireachtas.

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

Ms Ward said it would be important to have it finalised by January when Ireland’s adherence to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child is reviewed by a UN committee in Geneva.

The European Committee on Social Rights found in May this year that retaining the defence was a violation of European law.

“There is a deadline coming that would be very significant so I would imagine that Government would want to demonstrate some sort of change before they go to the UN committee in Geneva in January,” said Ms Ward.

The defence dates back to 1860 when a court found that “a parent may for the purpose of correcting what is evil in the child inflict moderate and reasonable corporal punishment”.

There are few examples of cases where it has had relevance in recent years as most cases brought to court have involved very severe cases of child abuse rather than an over-reacting but otherwise caring parent, but Ms Ward said what was stated in law influenced society’s thinking.

“It’s a very clear statement that the law and society does not accept in any way any form of violence against children and you must find another way to discipline your child so it’s more about attitudinal change.”


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