Smacking is set to be banned in Wales in a controversial bil some campaigners fear could lead to parents being jailed for disciplining their kids.
The Welsh Government has drawn up plans to end the legal defence of “reasonable punishment.”
The defence legally entitled parents to physically discipline their children as long as the smack did not leave a mark on a child, and so long as they don’t hit with a tool like a cane or belt.
The legislation introduced this March has divided Welsh parents, with campaigners fighting it warning parents who smack their children in Wales could jail in criminal prosecutions for common assault.
Anti smacking-ban campaign group Be Reasonable reportedly fears the change could see “hundreds” of parents put behind bars, citing police estimates.
Common assault carries a maximum prison sentence term of six months in Wales.
It is already illegal to hit a child, but the reasonable defence loophole that has its roots in Victorian times allows for some leeway for parents to carry out light physical discipline on their kids.
The Welsh Government has said it wants to change the law to give children the same protection from physical punishment as adults, and the bill to that effect has begun its journey into law this year.
But campaigners fighting the bill have warned the Welsh Government it is “playing with fire” and risks criminalising parents, according to the Sun .
Be Reasonable’s spokesman Jamie Gillies reportedly told the Welsh Assembly’s Children, Young People and Education Committee police data estimated 1,360 smacking crimes could be recorded in five years if the bill becomes law.
Mr Gillies reportedly added that the defence had been used in the UK only three times in the past nine years, with all three cases taking place in England.
Mr Gillies was referencing data from the Police Liaison Unit in Wales, which he told the committee showed Welsh police forces estimated the potential for 1,360 smacking crimes in five years to be recorded.
The figures are based on an audit by the four police forces of Wales.
The report he was referring to shows the forces estimated the current numbers of reports police in Wales receive currently considered to be at the level of “reasonable punishment.”
Between them, the four forces noted it was difficult to make a solid prediction, estimating estimated the law change had the potential to generate 274 new investigations a year.
During the committee hearing, Mr Gillies claimed changing the law would be “disproportionate,” and warned it could see parents get police cautions which show up on DBS checks affecting their future employment.
“Police are trying to identify children who are at risk of genuine abuse, so that’s going to make it more of a challenge for them… to investigate good families who have just used very light discipline with their children,” he said.
It comes after Conservative Welsh Assembly member Janet Finch-Saunders reportedly warned English holidaymaker families might avoid visiting Wales if they feared being punished for smacking their children.
Jersey has already made smacking illegal.
The British isle was one of 53 countries that voted to end the “reasonable punishment” defence.
The Children Act 2004 covering the whole UK forbids hitting that causes bruises, cuts or scratches.
While Scotland and Wales look set to follow Jersey’s suit to close the reasonable punishment loophole, there are no plans for England and Northern Island to draw up similar plans.
The Welsh Government published research last July which showed changing attitudes to the use of physical discipline.
It said 11 per cent of parents with young children reported smacking their kids in the last six months, down from 22 per cent in 2015.
It also found four-fifths of parents disagreed that “it is sometimes necessary to smack a naughty child,” increasing from 71 per cent in 2015.
But a consultation by the Government in 2018 revealed only half of people supported ending physical punishment of children.
If a final wording of the bill passes Assembly debate and a vote supporters hope it could become law by Royal Assent by March 2020.
By tonight, more than 1,860 people had signed Be Reasonable’s petition to fight the smacking ban.