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Academics join forces to call for children’s equal protection from physical assault

28 March 2014

A group of senior Welsh academics have come together to call for the Welsh Government to bring forward legislation to remove the legal defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ for adults who physically assault children.

The group has named itself ‘Academics for Equal Protection’ because its members are calling for children to have the same protection as adults from physical assaults.

The academics - who all work or live in Wales - have expertise in children’s social care, education, community paediatrics, family law and criminology and they represent some of the most senior members of those disciplines in Wales.

The group is non-party political and is not part of any existing campaign group.  Its members argue that the weight of international research evidence makes the case for a legislative change compelling.

Physical punishment (defined as causing pain to a child as a punishment but stopping short of injury) is associated with a range of negative outcomes, as established through decades of robust international studies.  Strong associations between experiencing physical punishment and the following outcomes have been established in repeated studies:

  • Increased aggression in children
  • Poorer mental health
  • Physical abuse (through escalation of punishment towards abuse)
  • Poorer child-adult relationships
  • In adulthood, anti-social behaviour and criminality, including the abuse of adult partners and children.

Even lower levels of corporal punishment have been found to have an impact on children’s anti-social behaviour. The group believe that reducing physical punishment through a change in the law will eventually lead to better outcomes for individual children and for Welsh society as a whole.

The group believe that the legal defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ that is currently available for parents and some other carers under Section 58 of the Children Act 2004 leads to confusion for parents and the professionals advising them. There is a need to simplify the law and give children the same protection from assault as adults.

Thirty-six other nations have successfully banned all forms of physical punishment on children.  There is no evidence of a marked increase in criminalisation of parents in these nations. Instead legislation has helped to accelerate the decline in the use of physical punishment and an increase in more effective parenting styles. Legislative change has therefore acted as a public health measure.

The group would like to work with the Welsh Government to bring forward the necessary legal and public education changes as soon as possible.

Dr Sally Holland, from Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences and a founding member of Academics for Equal Protection, will be speaking on behalf of the group at the fringe meeting ‘Children Deserve Equal Protection Under The Law’ at the Welsh Labour Party Conference in Llandudno on 29th March at 12.30pm. 

Group Members

Dr Sally Holland, Professor Emma Renold, Dr Amanda Robinson, Professor Jonathan Scourfield,  Professor Chris Taylor, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University.

Professor Gillian Douglas and Dr Julie Doughty, Cardiff Law School, Cardiff University.

Professor Alison Kemp, Dr Sabine Maguire, Early Years Research Team, Institute of Primary Care and Public Health, School of Medicine, Cardiff University.

Dr Elspeth Webb, Institute of Molecular and Experimental Medicine, School of Medicine, Cardiff University.

Professor Stephanie Van Goozen and Dr Katherine Shelton, School of Psychology, Cardiff University.

Professor Judy Hutchings, Centre for Evidence Based Early Intervention, Bangor University.

Professor Fiona Brookman and Dr Jonathan Evans, Centre for Criminology, University of South Wales.

Alison Perry, Associate Professor, Jane Williams, Associate Professor and Dr Simon Hoffman, College of Law, Swansea University and Wales Observatory on Human Rights of Children and Young People.

Professor Kevin Haines, Director, Centre for Criminal Justice and Criminology, Swansea University.

Professor Ian Butler, Professor of Social Work, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Bath.

Professor June Statham, Professor Emerita, Institute of Education, University of London.

Professor Nigel Thomas, Professor of Childhood and Youth Research, School of Social Work, University of Central Lancashire.