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It's an outrage that our children can't count on the same legal protection from assault as adults

Letter of the day: smacking debate

Election season is upon us again. As ever, our children - almost a quarter of the population - do not have the right to vote in the upcoming polls, but, more surprisingly, they also do not enjoy the same protection as adults under the law.

This is because of laws around physical punishment, legislation which the NSPCC in Northern Ireland believes must be changed as a priority when the new Assembly takes shape.

We know that the smacking debate has always provoked strong feelings both for and against, but we believe that, as a matter of urgency, the law permitting adults to strike children should be changed, bringing us in line with the dozens of other countries which have done the same.

We appreciate that parenting can be challenging, and it is clear children need controls on their behaviour. The issue has always been how best to impose these boundaries.

Under the law, in a case of common assault against a child, the defence of 'reasonable chastisement' can be used by parents and guardians. But that same defence does not exist in common assault against an adult. This is wrong.

The NSPCC has long campaigned for this anomaly in the law to be removed, so children have the same legal protection as adults against assault.

There has been much progress in child protection. In fact, recent research by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People showed that the majority of people here want to protect children from physical punishment.

At the NSPCC, we believe the time has come to take this important step in child protection and give children here the same protection as adults.

NEIL ANDERSON

Head of the NSPCC in Northern Ireland

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