In common with many classical liberals, I find the case against allowing the physical punishment of children by their parents to be a compelling one. After all, if assaulting an adult is wrong then why is it any less wrong to assault a child? In fact, it is arguably a greater wrong to assault a child since an adult (well, any adult outside of the UK at any rate) can at least make a decent fist out of defending themselves, whereas a five year-old has no such capability.
I am also aware that most parents who resort to physical chastisement do so by means of a light smack on the rump and therein lies a whole world of difference from that tiny number of parents who hospitalise or even kill their children by the application of sustained and quite brutal force.
In other words, the whole issue is messy, complicated and shrouded in grey arears. However, and that said, I do not approve of state intervention:
Ministers are preparing to help outlaw smacking in return for guarantees that parents are not prosecuted for giving children “a playful tap”.
The Government is desperate to avoid defeat at the hands of a powerful cross-party alliance building behind moves for an outright smacking ban.
Without having had an opportunity to peruse the proposes legislation, I am already deeply sceptical about the claim that ‘playful taps’ will not be acted upon. As with most law enforcement, it is rarely the most heinous that are punished but rather the most vulnerable and, therefore, the easiest targets.
The Association of Directors of Social Services recently wrote to its members supporting the proposed change to the law. “We believe children can and should be disciplined and made subject to clear parental controls but that this can be achieved without inflicting violence.”
However, the organisation did admit that the introduction of a smacking ban would have “resource implications”.
Yes, those old “resource implications”. Therein lies the key. For it is all very well to announce that assualts on children will no longer be tolerated but the real questions are, who enforces this measure and how?
The answer is, who else but for Social Services, the Police and the various child-welfare agences? Provided the “resource implications” are addressed to their satisfaction it will be up to these newly-appointed Guardians to investigate claims of child-assault and prosecute the offending parents.
This is a very bad idea. Quite aside from the extra powers that will be granted to these agencies (and they already have a cartload), the implication behind that investment is that thse public servants are wiser, more relaible and and more humane that those dreaful abusing parents. The record does not bear this out.
Because I live in a nation without memory, I very often find myself reminding people of what happended in the late 1980’s when all of the above agencies became convinced that parents all over the country were engaged in serious child abuse as part and parcel of ‘Satan-worship’ rituals. It was a flagrant and rank absurdity but nonetheless this hysterical fabrication shot through the entire public sector and fourth estate like an outbreak of the plague.
Eventually, (and only after these fictions became unsustainable) calmer heads prevailed and ‘Satanic child abuse’ canard was quashed. But nor before several families had been effectively destroyed by what was, to all intents and purposes, a witchhunt.
Far from being infallible, or even reliable, the agences of the state have proved by their track record that they are mendacious, self-serving and pernicious. To hand them even more power over family life than they have now is to invoke a ‘cure’ that will prove far worse than the disease.