Children's Rights, Equality & Diversity, Ethics, Politics, Social Care

David Lammy and why he is smacking wrong…

Image courtesy of Burbank California

Considering David Lammy’s interview over the weekend and Harriet Baldwin’s interview on Channel 4  I would like to highlight some of the flawed reasoning that leads to this sort of thinking.

Frankly speaking, David Lammy is wrong on so many levels that I am not sure where to begin. Therefore, I will only raise some of the more important points in relation to this matter.

David Lammy should know that “smacking” is not against the law as long as it does not cause bruising, reddening or other visible hurt or injury. Therefore, his claim that UK riots were partially caused by the “smacking” law can only mean that he believes that parents should be allowed to hit their children harder and that such corporal punishment could have beneficial behavioural consequence (e.g. would have prevented the UK riots).

Not only does social learning theory negate David Lammy’s claim, but also evidence suggests that he is wrong in his assertion. In fact, the relevant “smacking” legislation in England came into existence only in 2004 and therefore, could not have affected most of the rioters. Furthermore, Scotland having passed similar legislation in 2003 (one year earlier than England) did not experience similar riots last summer. Also, Sweden who has outlawed all sort of physical punishment before both England and Scotland, did not experience any riots.

In his interview David Lammy stated:

“These parents are scared to smack their children and paranoid that social workers will get involved and take their children away…. The ability to exercise their own judgement in relation to discipline and reasonable chastisement has been taken away.”

Lammy claims that Children Act (2004) has gone too far in banning physical punishment of children. He added: “Parents are no longer sovereign in their own home.

Perhaps Lammy should be reminded that the Children Act (2004) was in reaction to the death of Victoria Climbié, and should re-read the inquiry report which states:

“What happened to Victoria involved the apparent escalation of discipline and punishment. Carl Manning told the Inquiry that the abuse had begun with little smacks. This raises the question of ‘reasonable chastisement’, and we are aware that this can be used as a defence in cases of child abuse, and often leads to the collapse of cases where real harm has taken place. Lord Laming’s predecessor as Chief Inspector of Social Services (Sir William Utting) had argued that the reasonable chastisement defence should  be removed in order to protect children from injury by parents or carers. Lord Laming did not address this particular issue in his  Inquiry, although the implication of the recommendations and much of what he told us is that he recognises that a physical assault on a child must be treated with the same seriousness as an assault on an  adult. Physical punishment of children is no longer permitted in schools, and the Government recently announced that new standards from September 2003 will outlaw childminders smacking children in their care.  We urge the Government to use the opportunity of its forthcoming Green Paper on children at risk to remove the increasingly anomalous reasonable chastisement defence from parents and carers in order fully to protect children from injury and death.

Source: The Victoria Climbié Inquiry Report Sixth Report of Session 2002–03

Although, research does not confirm a link between smacking ban and child death, smacking is often a poor excuse and substitute for proper parenting. Let’s not forget that 8.4% of children and young people suffer from neglect at some point in their childhood, and that the proportion of children being put on child protection plan due to neglect increased from 39% in 2002 to 44% in 2010 [Source Department of Health (2002) and Department of Education (2010)].

Perhaps, David Lammy should understand that violent parents’ expressions of love for their children are not innocent and distinct from the ownership and coercive control that underlie abuse.

As evidenced by research, children need both guidance and support, and part of that guidance involves the parents’ ability to impose appropriate boundaries for their children. However, as documented in numerous literature children, and adults for that matter, do much better when guided in an accepting, encouraging and supportive environment rather than a punitive and restrictive approach.

Thinking of children as “adults in the making” or as “incomplete adults” is a misconceived notion that distorts the essence of childhood by focusing on who they will become rather than who they are. This conception of childhood discounts the validity and “here and now” value of children’s lived experiences and ignores their feelings, perceptions and judgements. This perpetuates a distorted hierarchical sub-ordination of children founded on superimposition of an adult-centred perception and conception of their “reality” and “best interest” often at the expense of children’s feelings, views and preferences.

I invite David Lammy and Harriet Baldwin to read the booklet “It hurts you inside: Young children talking about smacking” by Children’s Right Alliance for England, which captures some of the children’s voices in this regard and I quote:

  • “Sometimes if you smack, if it was an adult like my daddy, he can smack very hard … he can smack you like a stone … and you’ll cry”  (seven year old boy)
  • “I was just thinking that … if they changed the law then a lot of people will realise what they had done to their child and they would probably … be happy that the law was changed. If they don’t change the law they will think ‘oh well, the child doesn’t mind so we can keep on doing it’. But if they realise that children have been talking to adults about it then I think they will definitely realise that it hurts their child and they will be very upset with themselves.” (Seven year old girl)

Indeed, as evidenced by various studies and reports, the drivers and dynamics that led to the UK riots last summer, were much more complex and deeply rooted than David Lammy’s reductionism, and deserve careful reflection and re-examination.

The current UK legislation bans battery and physical punishment of adults, therefore, why do we condone smacking of children?

In fact, the “smacking” law should be changed to an outright ban on all types of corporal punishment and/or chastisement. This will not only help preserve the dignity of children and their sense of self-worth, it will also clarify the currently ambiguous and confusing legislative context as was already evident and evidenced in the above quote from Victoria Cilimbié inquiry report.

I’m afraid that David Lammy’s claims in relation to “smacking” law and his distortion of the profound socio-economic and cultural divisions in our society which were at the root of the UK riots is no more than a publicity stunt to drum up talk and subsequent sales of his book “Out of the Ashes: Britain after the riots”.

If there is any good to come of the current situation, let’s use this opportunity to have a meaningful discussion about children’s rights and how we view children and childhood in our society.



One thought on “David Lammy and why he is smacking wrong…

  1. A great analysis – thanks Claudia. The NSPCC believes that while parents have to be able to set clear and consistent boundaries and maintain discipline with their children this does not require smacking them, and David Lammy’s comments on this issue are misleading and unhelpful.

    The reasons for the riots run far deeper than minor changes to smacking legislation. These changes would not, in any event, have significantly impacted on many of those involved in the rioting as they would have been teenagers already when the law was altered. Evidence shows that smacking is not an effective punishment and sets a bad example by suggesting that problems can be solved through hitting, often in the heat of the moment.

    However, we do agree with Mr Lammy’s comments that the current laws are confusing. This leads to a minority of parents overstepping the mark and really hurting their children and then using smacking as an excuse. It also prevents social workers taking action as there is no clear line. The only way to stop this ambiguity is to ban smacking altogether and help parents to use more positive and constructive forms of discipline.

    Posted by The NSPCC | January 30, 2012, 12:50 pm

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