Reasonable chastisement no longer a defence for assaulting children

There was a time when men who beat their wives could rely on the defence of reasonable chastisement, and nobody saw anything much wrong with it — not even the women who bore the brunt of the violence. There was also a time, and that time is now, when people who beat their children could rely on the very same defence, but that changes tonight, at midnight, when it is no longer lawful for a parent to strike a child.

And so it should be.

reasonable chastisement corporal punishmentThere’s no justification for imposing our will through violence on another person, whether that person happens to be a child, or somebody weaker than us, or a sick person or somebody old and frail. What’s more, we all know that, and yet so many of us choose to make an exception for parents. For some reason best known to themselves, many people still think that an accident of procreation gives an adult the right to slap a child who happens to be their son or daughter while fully accepting that they have no right to strike another child unrelated to them.

Paradoxically, these are the same people who should be most concerned not to inflict pain or fear on the little ones they have in their care.

It’s baffling. Why would anyone hit a child, even when the striking is cloaked in the vile euphemism “smacking”? When can you start hitting a baby? When must you stop hitting a teenager? Is it when they can hit you back?

Smack, tap, pat, it all comes down to the same thing. A person with superior strength imposing their will on a weaker individual through physical force.

Smack, tap, pat. Words designed to emphasize that no lasting physical damage results from their gentle imposition of physical intimidation, as if the main damage caused by violence really is physical harm. It brings me close to puking when I hear apologists for corporal punishment talking about a smack on the bottom or a tap on the arm. My inner thug says Try giving me a smack on the bottom and see what hospital it lands you in.

Reasonable chastisement? Try it with a grown-up if you believe in it so much.

Go away. If your only option when communicating with a child is to inflict violence on them, you have already failed in your duties as a parent.

Violence doesn’t always leave lasting physical damage, and that’s why the smack, tap, pat brigade are so dangerous. As any experienced torturer knows, broken bones will heal, but the hurt in the soul goes on forever, and that is the real nature of violence. A damaged body does not cause a damaged mind, as every professional jockey and rugby player knows.

You might fall off a horse yet in six weeks you might be back in the Grand National. But if I beat you to the same injuries, you might never live a normal day again as long as you live.

What causes the trauma is the intent of the perpetrator. Violence is in the mind. Violence is all about the humiliation, and there is no greater humiliation than being forced to the will of another human being and that is why emotional violence belongs in the same rank as any blow of the fist.

When I stand over a small person and impose my will by fear, by physical attack, by shouting or by the pathetically invoked smack, tap or pat, I am using my superior strength to intimidate that small person. It makes no difference if that person is a colleague, a stranger in the street, a shop worker or a child. If I do that, I am intimidating somebody weaker than me and it makes absolutely no difference what our genetic relationship is. This is not reasonable chastisement.

Teaching children respect through violence has never worked.



PG McMahon solicitors

Irish Times




7 replies on “Reasonable chastisement no longer a defence for assaulting children”

I suppose wooden spools all over Ireland will only be used for baking now.. I think I’ll get one encased to mark the occasion and give it to the mother for Christmas.

Pope Francis told his audience at the Vatican, February 2015: “One time, I heard a father in a meeting with married couples say ‘I sometimes have to smack my children a bit, but never in the face so as to not humiliate them’.”How beautiful! He knows the sense of dignity! He has to punish them but does it justly and moves on.”..

This bit did it for me!

“It’s baffling. Why would anyone hit a child, even when the striking is cloaked in the vile euphemism “smacking”? When can you start hitting a baby? When must you stop hitting a teenager? Is it when they can hit you back?”

my land at the back of my house goes into Newry, so I can bring my nipper across the border and hit him lawfully…the strange ways of the world

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