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Corporal Punishment

There’s an effort in the British Parliament to “spare the rod,” despite the Biblical advice that to do so will “spoil the child.” The parliamentary committees want the government to pass a law forbidding parents from hitting their children. But they admit winning public support could be hard if it means parents might be prosecuted for giving their children a mild smack.

Britain , by the way, has a long tradition of corporal punishment. Hitting children with a cane, often until they bled, was a routine classroom punishment for centuries. That practice was banned only in 1998.

It would not be unprecedented—physical punishment of children is already illegal in Sweden , Demark, and Austria . Like virtue, compassion cannot be legislated. Well, maybe it can be legislated, but is it enforceable? Just as in most countries, child abuse is already against the law. If a child is seen with bruises and/or swelling, chances are somebody—a teacher or a neighbor—is going to notify the authorities. But, is it wise to invite a call to the Law just because some unruly kid is seen getting a good whack to the backside?

There are laws against assault, but that doesn’t prevent millions of people from being assailed every day. There are laws against killing people, yet thousands of victims get murdered every day. Just declaring the corporal punishment of one’s own perhaps sassy and misbehaving children will not stop it, except perhaps in public. It will criminalize what many consider to be parents’ responsibility.

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