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Rising number back call to ban smacking children: Poll

By Rebecca Black

A majority of people in Northern Ireland would like to see the law changed to make it illegal for parents to smack their children, a survey has shown.

The poll carried out for the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) found that 63% of the public would support the move to protect children.

Currently the law in Northern Ireland allows the defence of "reasonable chastisement" for parents who physically punish their child.

Surveys carried out by the NSPCC almost 20 years ago found that between 29% and 32% of the population supported a change in the law to protect children.

However, a fresh survey carried out by Kantar Millward Brown last November and December, which polled a sample of 1,500 people, found that twice that percentage (63%) now say they would definitely support or would tend to support changing the law to give children the same protection from hitting and smacking that adults have. This figure was the same for parents and non-parents.

Only one in three adults (33%) were aware that the law currently allows a parent to physically punish a child. This increased to 37% amongst parents.

And just under one in four adults (24%) and 18% of parents stated that physical punishment was acceptable, instead suggesting that withdrawing treats like pocket money was much more acceptable (73%), followed by grounding, negotiation or discussion and time out.

Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, called for the law in Northern Ireland to be changed to reflect the changing views on smacking.

"Parents have the toughest and yet most rewarding job and there is no manual, but for too long now parents have been given mixed messages about how to effectively discipline their children," she said.

"Updating our laws would give clarity to parents, who when at their most stressed, could be supported to deal with challenging situations.

"We now know a lot more about the damaging effects physical punishment has on children's health and development, through adolescence and into adulthood.

"We did not have this information available to us even five years ago and we cannot now ignore this evidence.

She added: "Removing the defence of reasonable chastisement would allow Northern Ireland to join with 52 countries around the world which have moved to protect children from violence.

"We have nothing to fear and everything to gain from a change in the law, it will be about applying a law already in place for adults to children, a law that our authorities already know and work within."

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