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Domestic CP - June 2005

Corpun file 16708

Sunday Times, London, 12 June 2005

Ireland gets a slap

By Alan Ruddock



The Council of Europe has now ruled that Ireland and four other European countries need to introduce legislation that specifically outlaws the slapping of children.

According to the council, Ireland is in breach of its human rights obligations because it has failed to introduce a ban, and its ruling follows a complaint lodged two years ago by the World Organisation Against Torture.

Paul Gilligan, the chief executive of the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC), welcomed the ruling, but said "legislation on its own won't achieve anything".

Significantly, Gilligan does not want to see a new criminal law to tackle parents who believe in physical punishment. "We need social legislation that protects children, rather than legislation that criminalises parents," he said.

"We also need to introduce a range of parenting support measures, launch an awareness campaign and work through education. Most parents in Ireland don't slap their children and don't want to slap their children; but we have to remove violence in any form from the home."

As a laden supermarket trolley was pushed towards the checkout in a Carlow supermarket last week, a young boy started to scream and pull away from his mother. For a few moments she argued, her voice rising as the screaming continued.

Then she resorted to the traditional approach: a swift slap on the wrist.

The scream was replaced by a whimper and the family made their way through the checkout. Afterwards Jean, a mother of three children under the age of 7, said that she rarely slapped her children, and hated doing it.

"But there are times," she said, "when you just snap and it's the only answer. It shocks them, but it doesn't hurt them; and it makes them realise they've overstepped the mark."

It is a sentiment that might be shared by many parents, but it would not find much support from academics. Joan Durrant, a child clinical psychologist, said in her submission to a Canadian senate committee, that "recent studies have revealed that physical punishment often wounds children emotionally, if not physically ... Of a sample of 100 children, 98% stated that spanking has a destructive emotional impact. The children said that physical punishment breeds anger, resentment, humiliation, a desire for retaliation, and avoidance of the adults who strike them. The fact that a child has not been physically injured does not mean that the child has not been psychologically injured".

Gilligan is adamant that all violence against children has to be eradicated. "That doesn't mean that we equate a little slap with a physical assault, but even a slap on the back of the hand is an infringement of that child's human rights. We wouldn't condone slapping a woman, so why condone slapping a child?" he asked.


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