Corporal Punishment Against Children: End as We Wish to Go On.

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It is time for corporal punishment against children to end, in all settings. Yet the nature of its prohibition must set an example of the understanding and composure with which the discipline of children should be approached. 

Scotland has become the first nation in the UK to outlaw physical punishment against children. The legislation was passed with overwhelming support in Scottish Parliament on Thursday 3 October. The rest of the United Kingdom must now follow suit. However, it is imperative that this movement to bring the rights of children in line with those of adults happens intelligently; without stirring the division by which we seem to be currently gripped.

Children are the most vulnerable among us, it is simply illogical that the law provides them less protection against assault than the rest of us. The small change made by the Sottish Parliament is the removal of the clause that justifies assault against children as the exercise of a parental right. 

Violence cannot be taught as an acceptable approach to conflict resolution or education. Corporal punishment frames physical and emotional abuse as a regular part of human relationships, teaching children that violence is not only acceptable but trivial. It leads to violent tendencies which are then expressed in later life. Adults who have experienced corporal punishment are more likely to be involved in domestic or intimate partner violence. 

The question is such an emotive one because it is so personal and engenders an invasion into the homes of every parent and every child. There should be no outcry, no vilification of parents. The legislation must never be shaped as stick with which one side of the argument may beat the other. Implementation of this legislation must be done on an educational basis, minimising the extent to which parents feel like criminals for their parenting styles. 

A 2015 review conducted by the NSPCC found that corporal punishment was often viewed by parents as a bad thing, yet used nonetheless once other forms of discipline had failed. Reasonable implementation of a law outlawing this sort of punishment would encourage parents to be given help with disciplining their children before they reached the point of striking them. 

It will not lead to parents being led away in handcuffs while their child stands at the front door with their arms crossed and a smug grin. Rather it will begin a conversation about responsible parenting but with the undeniable goal putting smacking behind us. 

Much of the scepticism around the law comes at the prospect of the state intruding into the parent-child relationship. It is true that parents should not feel overshadowed in their authority by the law, but this will not be the case. The notion that the legislation would turn children into informers, reporting their parents to the authorities when they are disciplined, is ridiculous. Children should be aware of their rights, and aware that there are people that can help if they are being abused. 

Given that the majority of children that experience corporal punishment are between the ages of three and seven, they should be encouraged to call for help if they feel unsafe in their homes. This attitude will instil confidence in children to report other, more serious cases of abuse that might come from other sources. We must impart the unwavering understanding that nobody is above the law. 

The parent is the most challenging role that many of us will take on in our lives. Our children are the object of our strongest emotions, primarily a love that is unmatched by anything else in our lives. We are all still learning, and the end of corporal punishment must come with the same understanding and tolerance with which we would like our children to be treated. 

It is time to set an example, without making an example of parents. This is as much the beginning of a modern, overdue conversation about parenting as it is the end of corporal punishment.