No widespread support for smacking ban - study

A quarter of Irish parents smack their children and there is no widespread support for a ban, according to a study released today.

While a majority believes parents have a right to use physical punishment, the number who actually do is considerably lower than in Britain.

The survey ordered by children’s minister Barry Andrews shows 25% of parents slap their children – compared with 58% in England and 51% in Scotland.

Despite most parents insisting they have a right to slap their children, the Children’s Rights Alliance repeated its demand for a ban.

Jillian van Turnhout, the organisation’s chief executive, said the Government needs to show leadership by outlawing corporal punishment.

“Irish law is now out of step with parents, international best practice and Government policy,” she said. “Change is needed.”

Overall 34% of respondents said slapping a child should remain legal with another 24% saying it should depend on the age of the child. Some 42% said they favoured a ban.

Almost seven in 10 parents thought the odd smack was no harm.

Some 60% believe parents have the right to slap their child and 38% said smacking was the only way to get their message across.

Half of those surveyed said slapping was necessary only as a last resort.

The research showed very little difference in attitudes to slapping children between men and women although mothers are more likely than fathers to favour a ban.

There were some differences among parents based on their educational and social background.

Those who left school without completing the Leaving Certificate were more likely to agree that parents had a right to smack their children.

Parents in managerial positions or who described themselves as professionals were more likely to oppose slapping as a punishment.

In what it refers to as psychologically aggressive discipline, the authors reported that nearly half of parents had shouted or sworn at their children in the past year.

A fifth admitted calling their child lazy or stupid, with this method of punishment more likely against teenagers aged between 15 to 17.

The Irish study is based on telephone research with 1,353 parents with at least one child under the age of 18 between December 2007 and April 2008.

The English study – carried out in 2003 – dealt only with parents of children aged between one and 12, and children between those ages are more likely to be slapped.

But Anne-Marie Halpenny, a psychology lecturer at Dublin Institute of Technology, who co-authored the Irish research, believes the difference between the countries stands.

“I think there definitely is still a higher incidence (of smacking in Britain) even with that qualification in the English study,” she said.

The Scottish study was based on the same age group as the Irish report.

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