Doctors urge Government to ban smacking children in England

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) says England's current laws are "unjust and dangerously vague".

Emily Sergeant Emily Sergeant - 17th April 2024

The UK Government is facing fresh calls from doctors to introduce a ban on smacking children in England.

In case you weren’t aware, a new law was introduced in Wales back in March 2022 to ban “reasonably punishing”, with the nation following in the footsteps of more than 60 other countries across the world at the time, and ever since then, the Government in England has faced increasing calls by NSPCC, Barnardo’s, and other charities and organisations to follow suit.

Any form of corporal or physical punishment – including smacking, hitting, slapping, and shaking – is now against the law in Wales, Scotland, Jersey and dozens of other nations.

But here in England, and also in Northern Ireland, it is still legal for a parent or carer to discipline a child physically, if it’s considered to be reason “reasonable” punishment, despite the fact The Children Act 2004 says it’s unlawful to assault a child in a way that causes actual or grievous bodily harm, or with child cruelty.

Now, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) is, once again, urging ministers to consider ending the “reasonable chastisement” defence.

Doctors are urging the Government to ban smacking children in England / Credit: Welsh Government

Doctors called England’s current laws around physical punishment “unjust and dangerously vague”.

In a report on the contentious matter, which has been a topic of debate for several decades, published this week, the RCPCH explained that the laws currently “create a grey area” and ultimately make it more difficult to distinguish which forms of physical punishment are “lawful” and which are not.


Professor Andrew Rowland, who is a consultant paediatrician and an officer for child protection at the RCPCH, said in a statement on the report that he was “regularly faced with situations where it’s alleged that physical punishment has been used against a child”, but, due to what he claims is the “vague nature of the laws”, this makes it “extremely challenging” to talk to families about what the rules are.

“This lack of legislative clarity can even add an extra layer of complexity when trying to identify cases of child abuse,” Professor Rowland added.

He called for there to be “no grey areas when it comes to safeguarding children”, and concluded that changing the laws in England and Northern Ireland “will give us absolute clarity”.

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) says England’s current laws are “unjust and dangerously vague” / Credit: iStockPhoto

The UK Government says any form of violence towards a child is “completely unacceptable”.

Following the publishing of the RCPCH’s report, a Department for Education spokesperson commented: “Any form of violence towards a child is completely unacceptable, and we have clear laws in place to prevent it.

“It is the responsibility of the parent to discipline their children, appropriately and within the boundaries of the law.

Read more:

“We are supporting teachers, social workers and all safeguarding professionals to spot the signs of abuse or neglect more quickly, and our statutory framework for safeguarding children in England makes clear what organisations should do to keep children safe.”

Featured Image – NSPCC