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NSPCC research reveals Northern Ireland public want an end to physical punishment of children



Almost two thirds of adults in Northern Ireland are in favour of legal reform to end the physical punishment of children, new research published by the NSPCC can reveal.


The survey, carried out by NSPCC Northern Ireland, reveals that 65% of adults, rising to 71% in parents, would support removing the defence of reasonable punishment of children and giving children the same protection in law as adults.


Currently, the law in Northern Ireland allows parents or those caring for a child to physically punish them, by enabling them to raise a defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ if they are charged with an offence of assault.



The NSPCC and other organisations have been campaigning for the Northern Ireland Assembly to remove this defence because research shows that physically punishing a child is harmful to children, as well as being ineffective in changing long term behaviour.


Changing the law would bring Northern Ireland in line with 63 other countries. In Wales, legal change is underway, and in the Republic of Ireland, Scotland and Jersey the law has already changed, leaving children in Northern Ireland with less protection from assault than their peers in most other parts of the UK and Ireland.


In the NSPCC Northern Ireland survey, support for legal reform rose to 70% of adults and 74% of parents if the change was accompanied with information and support on how to manage children’s behaviour effectively. Only a third of parents surveyed had received any information on positive parenting, with non-Governmental sources most frequently cited.


The research also found that only 25% of adults and 23% of parents surveyed consider physical punishment an effective form of discipline.


Three quarters of parents surveyed also said reassurance that they could physically intervene to keep a child safe from immediate danger, such as crossing a road, would make them more likely to support a change in the law.



The children’s charity believes the need for reform has never been so clear and warns that the pandemic and lockdown have rapidly increased the ever-growing risks that children have had to face. The NSPCC’s Childline service took thousands of contacts from children throughout the pandemic, with many children describing an escalation in severity of violence and many unsure if they were experiencing physical punishment or abuse. NSPCC Northern Ireland wants the NI Executive to send a very clear message to children that protecting them matters, by removing the defence of reasonable punishment and putting children at the heart of its response to post-covid recovery.


NSPCC Northern Ireland Policy and Public Affairs manager, Natalie Whelehan.


NSPCC Northern Ireland Policy and Public Affairs manager, Natalie Whelehan, said:


“When you look at the survey results, along with the other research we have available, the message is very clear. Parents and other adults in Northern Ireland do not believe that physical punishment is an acceptable form of discipline, nor do they think it is effective in managing children’s behaviour.



“An overwhelming number of parents and other adults surveyed welcomed legal reform in Northern Ireland. And support rose even further when parents were reassured that they could intervene to keep children safe, the change would be well-publicised, and they would receive support and information on managing children’s behaviour effectively. Shockingly, this is something that most parents have never been given.


“At the NSPCC we believe that it is vital the Northern Ireland Assembly listens to parents, reforms the law and gives them the information and support they clearly require, in line with its commitments on positive parenting. Parents have a range of methods open to them to discipline their children, but physical punishment should never be one of them.”


The NSPCC is part of a coalition of organisations campaigning for reform in order to give children equal protection from assault. For more information and to register your support for the campaign, visit the NICCY website at Equal Protection Campaign (niccy.org)


For more information on using positive parenting, including ways to set clear and consistent boundaries, parents and carers can visit the NSPCC website at Support for parents | NSPCC



 

Amendments to remove the defence of reasonable punishment have been put forward in the Justice (Sexual Offences and Trafficking Victims) Bill. If it is decided by the Speaker that an amendment on the defence comes within the scope of the Bill, the issue will be debated in the Assembly at the Bill’s Consideration Stage on 15th February 2022.


The survey was carried out by Belfast based company, Social Market Research, and is based on 1010 interviews with the NI public, aged 18+.


The survey was conducted using an online panel methodology with results representative of the NI adult population and the fieldwork was carried out between 29 December 2021 and 7 January 2022.


Survey top lines


• Only 25% of adults who took part in our survey and 23% of parents stated that they think physical punishment is an effective form of discipline.


• Only 14% of adults surveyed and 8% of parents think that physical punishment is an acceptable form of discipline. Physical punishment was the least acceptable form of discipline or punishment (14%).


• The majority of both adult (65%) and parent respondents (71%) would support legal reform in Northern Ireland, to give children equal protection under the law. Support for legal reform is widespread and from across the electorate: 50% of TUV affiliates, 56% of DUP affiliates, 65% of UUP affiliates, 66% of Sinn Fein affiliates, 68% of Alliance Party affiliates, 82% of SDLP affiliates, and 86% respondents who affiliate with the Green Party, stated that they would support legal reform.



• A large majority of adult (70%) and parent (74%) respondents would be more likely or much more likely to support legal reform in Northern Ireland if they were provided with [more] information and support on how to manage children’s behaviour effectively.


Again, support for legal reform comes from across the electorate: 56% of TUV affiliates, 67% of Green Party affiliates, 73% of DUP affiliates, 74% of UUP affiliates, 76% of Alliance Party affiliates, 80% of Sinn Fein affiliates, and 86% of respondents who affiliate with the SDLP, would be more likely to support a change in the law if parents and carers received [more] information and support to help manage children’s behaviour effectively.


• 72% of adult and 75% of parent respondents said they would be more likely to support a change in the law if they were assured that parents could still physically intervene to protect a child from immediate danger (e.g.running across a road).


• 60% of adult and 62% of parent respondents said they would be more likely to support a change in the law if the proposed legal change was well publicised.


• Only 40% of adults and 45% of parents who took part in the 2022 survey were aware that the law allows parents and carers to physically punish their child.


• Only 33% of parents who responded to the 2022 survey reported that they had received information on positive parenting.


• The most common sources for information on positive parenting were a parent or children’s group (42%), followed by schools (27%) and health visitors (26%). 12% of parent-respondents said the information came from either a GP or social worker respectively, while 19% couldn’t remember the source.

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