12/31/04 — On spanking: Let us hope this notion doesn’t cross the ocean

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On spanking: Let us hope this notion doesn’t cross the ocean

The English are retaining a smattering of common sense, at least for now, in one of those areas in which many of their European neighbors have decided not to. Parliament won’t make it illegal for parents to spank their children.

Spanking has been allowed by British law since 1860 when a judge ruled that the physical punishment of children was all right as a “reasonable chastisement.”

But some in the House of Commons want to follow the lead of Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Austria, where a slap on a child’s behind can put a poor parent in the pen.

That’s what worries Margaret Hodge, Great Britain’s minister for children. She said outlawing spanking would “leave parents wondering if a trivial smack would land them in prison.” Nearly all parents would be guilty, she said.

Members of the House of Commons, perhaps calling to mind their own relationships with their children, were convinced. Instead of eliminating the reasonable-chastisement protection, they voted, 424-75, for an amendment that outlaws chastisement only if it exceeds reasonable.

No doubt, the opponents of reasonable spanking are afraid that some parents will get carried away with the process and take it too far. That can happen, of course, but abuse committed like that, in the heat of a temper fit, would be just as likely whether or not spanking were illegal.

Self-controlled mothers and fathers should be free to make their own decisions on corporal punishment.

The idea that outlawing mild spanking would even be considered is troubling. In the United States, we can hardly conceive of the constabulary invading our homes over such a benign and personal matter. And senseless trends and notions that have their beginnings across the ocean often find their way to our shores.

It is already illegal, as it should be, to abuse a child. Beyond that, we don’t need a law governing the way we choose to bring up our children.

Published in Editorials on December 31, 2004 11:25 AM