The U.N. on smack

The child who runs into traffic or seeks to jam a toy into an electrical socket needs to understand that they're not to do that act again. Sometimes a stern word will do. Sometimes a smack is required. The parent on the spot is better placed to decide that than a UN committee

Home discipline: should the UN interfere with parental choice?
Alex Deane
On 31 July 2015 19:09

I do not have children. I begin by making this point clear because (despite the brave, cogent, and rare defence of voluntary childlessness that one sees from time to time) it seems that, for many in Britain today, this childless state wholly invalidates any view that one might have about any aspect of child-rearing, or the place of children in society more generally. 

I find this peculiar. I've never been to Brazil, but I've got some thoughts about our trading arrangements and relations with that fine country. I've not been sent to prison, but I've got opinions about the penal system and rehabilitation.

I've not died, but I have some views about the end of my life and the dignity that one might wish to have in it.

Discussion of such topics seems to be possible even with those who know a great deal more about them than me.

Nevertheless, when it comes to children, it seems that, for many parents, "you don't have children; you can't understand" is the beginning and the end of their engagement with those childless folk like me on any subject relating to kids, and that that's a full and sufficient rebuttal of anything one might say with which they disagree. If that's the case for you, then look away now.

And I really mean now, because I'm going to set out why I believe that parents have the right to smack their children.

I know that this position is strongly disliked by many.

For expressing this view on a Sky News the other evening, I was called a "child abuser" on Twitter -- surely, in our child-centric age, the worst thing that one can be called in British society.

But I'm still willing to stick my neck out and say that it's worth discussing. The subject arises because a committee of the United Nations has told Britain that we should change the law.

To be clear, this would mean criminalising smacking and, ultimately, criminalising the parents who do it, requiring the state to police and intervene in the behaviour of millions of British parents presently viewed in law as doing nothing wrong. 

My position is that the status quo in the UK is perfectly acceptable. Presently, parents may, "reasonably chastise" their children. In the course of doing so they may not bruise or scratch or cut the skin, and quite right too. 

But they are entitled to use their judgment in determining how best a child is going to learn a lesson and, amongst the various tools at their disposal, the short sharp shock of a smack is an entirely reasonable one.

The child who runs into traffic or seeks to jam a toy into an electrical socket needs to understand that they're not to do that act again. Sometimes a stern word will do. Sometimes a smack is required. The parent, who is on the spot, who knows their child better than anyone, is best placed to decide that, not a U.N. Committee. 

There is a point which, in the present age, we seem to have forgotten or decided to discard -- that there is a margin within decision making that sits with parents to determine the way that they bring up their children.

This will include choices that, perhaps, do not precisely conform to the way that a state employed social scientist might advise, but are nevertheless acceptable and constitute their right to choose as parents.

If that is not right, then it would be for the state to determine exactly how children are reared.

The state's relationship to children would be more important than that of parents. The state would be our parent. 

Thinking about it even from the most, "if you haven't done it you can't understand" point of view, my perspective on being a child must be valid to at least some degree, as I was one once. And I was smacked. And (drum roll) it never did me any harm. 

Of course, this appeal to longstanding precedent in defence of smacking is hardly a new argument: so it has been for generations. But that in and of itself is not something that gives pause to any modern liberal -- indeed, it spurs them to argue for change, for they think that they know best, as if every generation before us knew nothing, and we know everything.

This isn't really a point about smacking, more about one's innate philosophical outlook -- but it seems especially pertinent when it comes to parenting.

We, with our modern ways, seem to think that we must have a monopoly on wisdom; those who raised us, and all who raised them and those who came before them, were uncivilised or at least unwise, less wise than us. Well, maybe.

Even if all of this is wrong, what business is it of the UN to tell us so? The will of Parliament has been expressed in the current law, and the unelected quangocrats of the UN committee hardly stand above that in my view.

After all, amongst those presently sitting on that august body are representatives from countries which admittedly know a great deal more than we do about the abuse of human rights, but often not for the best reasons.

When free and fair elections are the norm for them, when free speech is defended and not squashed, when equal rights for women are in place, perhaps then their views on how to bring up British children might carry more force. 

The occasional smack does a child no harm, and may do them, and the rest of us, much good.

Alex Deane is Managing Director and Head of Public Affairs UK at FTI Consulting and a former aide to David Cameron. The views expressed herein are those of the author and not necessarily the views of FTI Consulting LLP, its management, its subsidiaries, its affiliates, or its other professionals, members or employees. @ajcdeane

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