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Smacking legislation is unworkable for doctors

Legislation on smacking: Health professionals will have to cope with consequences of recent poor decision, BMJ Volume 329 pp 1195-6

BMJ

The recent Commons' decision not to outlaw the physical punishment of children means that the law will offer its most vulnerable citizens (children) less protection from assault than is offered to adults, says an editorial in this week's BMJ.

Sarah Stewart-Brown, Professor of Public Health at Warwick Medical School, argues that smacking is at best ineffective and at worst leads to an escalation of unwanted behaviour. Harsh physical punishment is a cause of criminality and violence, says Professor Stewart-Brown.

Health professionals will be left to cope with the consequences of the new legislation. General practitioners, paediatricians, and primary care nurses will have to adjudicate on whether a punishment has left a mark or caused mental harm. Pronouncing that it has will be tantamount to criminalising their patients or patients' parents, and saying that it has not potentially leaves a child in danger.

An outright ban on physical punishment, coupled with widespread parenting education and support of the kind proposed in the recent national service framework for children is the best long-term solution, argues Professor Stewart-Brown.

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