Northern Ireland

Speakers and funders at the public talk in Belfast on 15 October 2014 included, (from left): Patricia Lewsley-Mooney, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Penelope Leach, the key note speaker, Bethany Taggart, NICCY's Youth Panel Representative, and Carmel McKinney, Deputy Chairperson, Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland

Speakers and funders at the public talk in Belfast on 15 October 2014 included, (from left):
Patricia Lewsley-Mooney, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Penelope Leach, the key note speaker, Bethany Taggart, NICCY's Youth Panel Representative, and Carmel McKinney, Deputy Chairperson, Safeguarding Board for Northern Ireland.


Three videos presented at the Positive Parenting Information Talk, 15/10/14






A project started recently in Northern Ireland involves collaboration among young people, professionals in the field of creative digital technologies and CAU!  The purpose is to make messages ‘real’ through presenting them in a range of digital visual formats to inform and influence a range of user groups about the need for legal change and the promotion of positive parenting methods.  The messages are CAU’s aims – to seek legal reform and to promote positive discipline.

The first of the three Creative Learning Centres to provide support was the AmmA Centre in the City of Armagh. Working with CAU! and the young people, who were the instigators of ideas, the AmmA Centre staff supported the young people in presenting their ideas.  The young people made decisions about the choice of media - animation, film or graphics - to deliver the key messages.  They created a working partnership with each other and with the professionals. They had a major input into the scripting and production of the work, with support from the professionals who guided, mentored and taught skills. The professionals undertook the post-production work where the "raw" material was brought together and compiled to create a quality outcome.  CAU! was involved at every stage to ensure that the messages presented in the work were appropriate and suited to the target audience. 


Plans are underway to have similar input by young people in the other two Creative Learning Centres – the Nerve Centre, Belfast and the Nerve Centre, Derry–Londonderry. Through this project, CAU! hopes to empower young people to spread the message about legal reform and positive parenting.


Go to the AmmA Centre channel on YouTube to watch the animations.


CAU! values the support by children/young people for other children/young people, and also values the financial support of NICCY,  the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, who have made this project possible.


Information event on positive parenting

The Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People (NICCY) and the Children are Unbeatable! Alliance (CAU!), hosted a public information talk on the subject of positive parenting which was held in Belfast on 4 February 2010.


The key-note speaker was Dr Penelope Leach and a panel of local representatives to comment on the subject of positive parenting from a range of viewpoints including health, politics and faith.


This event, jointly organised by Children are Unbeatable! and NICCY also highlighted the 20th anniversary of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.


Download Penelope Leach's speech.


Funding has enabled the production of information leaflets and posters in Northern Ireland for children and young people as well as for adults.  There was considerable support in compiling this material, with quotations willingly given for inclusion in the adult leaflet and poster from a range of representatives in public life, and with valuable input from young people from our member organisation, VOYPIC, on the design and content for the material for children and young people.


Further funding has made it possible to carry the same information in five languages for distribution throughout the Southern Health Board area within Northern Ireland.


Copies of both posters and information flyers are available by contacting CAU! in Northern Ireland.


Promoting positive parenting

Two member organisations of Children are Unbeatable in Northern Ireland worked together to carry out training on positive parenting methods with professionals working with children. Save the Children and Parents Advice Centre asked the group of 120 professionals to complete questionnaires at three different stages of the project to find out what they had known about alternatives to physical punishment, what they had learned from the training and finally how they had used this information in their work. The findings from the evaluations have formed the report which is reproduced both as a summary and as a full report.


Download the full report: Promoting Positive Discipline (PDF)


Click here for summary of the report (PDF)


Inter-Disciplinary Group on Positive Parenting (Implementation Group)

Following the Office of Law Reform consultation exercise on physical punishment, it was agreed that a provision corresponding to section 58 of the Children Act 2004 (this provision applies in Physical Punishment in the home England and Wales) would be introduced in Northern Ireland and that work on positive parenting would be taken forward. Accordingly, Article 2 of the Law Reform (Miscellaneous Provisions) (Northern Ireland) Order 2006 provides for the restriction of the defence of reasonable chastisement to the summary charge of common assault. This means the defence can no longer be raised on serious charges, such as wounding, grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and cruelty to a child. The defence will also be precluded on a civil claim for damages where the harm caused amounted to actual bodily harm.


The Order was made at Westminster on 19th July 2006 and came into effect on 20th September 2006.


An inter-disciplinary group, which consists of representatives from across Government and the voluntary/community sector, has been established to progress the work on alternative forms of discipline and positive parenting.


Further information which has been gathered on the group includes:

  • the Group is made up of representatives from: Department of Education for Northern Ireland; Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety; Office of the First Minister and Deputy First Minister; Office of Law Reform; Barnardos; NCH; NIPPA - the Early Years Organisation; NSPCC; PAC - Parents Advice Centre for Northern Ireland;
  • the terms of reference are:
    - to define positive parenting
    - to identify available parenting, advice and support programmes/services
    - to raise awareness of those programmes/services.


The Group has produced two 'Top Tip booklets', one of which is aimed at the parents of younger children and one of which is aimed at the parents of teenagers.  The booklets contain helpful hints for encouraging good behaviour and managing the parent/child relationship and identify further sources of support.  The booklets have been distributed throughout Northern Ireland, including to local libraries, health centres and dental surgeries, and have also been distributed via schools.  Feedback to date on the booklets has been very positive.


Access to the booklets can be found on the DHSSPS website:


Information on the judicial review

Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, Patricia Lewsley, [has] pledged to continue efforts to effectively protect children and young people from all kinds of physical punishment.  “The court action I took was not about criminalising parents, it was and continues to be about protecting children,” said Ms Lewsley.


“The law as it stands makes it illegal to hit a child, but a defence is available to parents to a charge of common assault of a child.  I believe that is unclear, confusing for parents, and needs to be reformed.  It should be clear that there is to be no more hitting of children in Northern Ireland.”


The Commissioner stated that she will not be pursuing further legal action at this time because of current financial constraints, but will continue with efforts to persuade Government to remove any defence there is for an assault on a child, no matter the circumstance.


“I am disappointed that I cannot continue my legal efforts to end the unequal treatment of children who suffer an assault. However, I will continue my efforts to make sure that children have equal treatment and protection in law,” she said.


“I am frustrated that the Court of Appeal was not able to consider all aspects of the case. The Court did not consider the issue of Physical Punishment, in the main, due to a technicality in that I do not have what is called victim status, meaning that I cannot represent or act on behalf of all children and young people in taking a case to court under the Human Rights Act. When the Assembly set up my role, it said that the job of Commissioner was to promote and safeguard the rights and best interests of children and young people.  I and everyone who has supported me in this action want the message to be clear that hitting children is wrong.  It has already been banned in dozens of countries worldwide, and we are lagging behind.  The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child says there should be no defence for hitting a child.  The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health says hitting is wrong.  My fellow commissioners in England, Scotland, Wales and the Republic of Ireland are also against it for the same reasons”.


“We know research has shown that parents do not feel good about doing this and most importantly, children themselves have told me that hitting should stop.”


The Commissioner said she was grateful for the support she has received from individuals and organisations in her efforts to give children the same protection as adults receive. “Parents, professionals, voluntary organisations – all have been in contact with me urging me to continue my efforts. In the same way as hitting adult partners was made illegal and without any defence, I am confident that one day there will be no defence for hitting a child. In the meantime I will focus efforts to help parents consider alternative and better ways to discipline their children,” added Ms Lewsley.


Media Enquiries:  For further information please contact Sharon Whittaker on 028 9031 1616/ 07917 544177 or Jonathan Traynor on 07917 543953


Notes to Editors:

  • NICCY challenged the law which gives a defence to hitting children because it strongly believes that children and young people should have equal protection against common assault.
  • Calling for a ban on all physical punishment of children does not mean there would be a wave of prosecutions of parents; the aim is to stop degrading, cruel treatment of children through educational, not punitive, interventions.
  • The Court of Appeal said that although the Commissioner’s arguments were persuasive, they could not decide upon the arguments because they ruled the Commissioner is not a ‘victim’ for the purposes of the Human Rights Act.
  • Judge Gillen said in the High Court that this was a matter of great public importance; it was entirely responsible that the Commissioner took the case and that if the Commissioner could not, who could?
  • In deciding whether the case should continue to the House of Lords, all the criteria was met except one, the availability of financial resources.  Nothing else had changed since NICCY started the case in 2006.
  • The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child reported last October that the UK must take immediate steps to ban all physical punishment of children.
  • Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health have called for a ban on physical punishment of children.
  • Children themselves think that hitting should stop, and see physical discipline as something painful which happens when parents are angry and stressed. [From NSPCC/ Barnardo’s/ NICCY Report 2008]


For more information, please contact


The impact of conflict on children: healing the past and securing the future

Presentation by Thomas Hammarberg, Commissioner for Human Rights, at the Children's Law Centre Annual Lecture Belfast, 8 February 2007

I have had a poster on my wall for eleven years. It announces a conference here in Belfast about the impact of armed conflict on children - it was a consultation for a special United Nations study. We analyzed experiences from Central America, South Africa, Palestine and, of course, Northern Ireland and tried to draw conclusions.


The picture on the poster shows a girl staring at what seems to be a military watch tower - one can see the threatening silhouette of it reflected in her big glasses. And on top of the poster there is the message: "We all fall down".


Yes, we do. The question is if we manage to stand up again. The conference was about how children could be healed and secured for the future.

What was said then and has been proven over and over again in these and other trouble areas is that violent conflicts always hurt children badly. They are the most vulnerable and tend to be the least protected. The psychological scars could run deep into their minds.


Some of them may never recover; some of them may be easy recruits for the next generation of violent groups.


Children in these "troubles" experience in many respects the same agony as those in full scale war. During such conflicts that we had here in Northern Ireland or now in Gaza, for instance, children can never feel fully secure - the violence is penetrating their daily lives. They may lose adults they love and depend on. Or they may see relatives injured, physically or mentally. They may one day be targeted themselves.

The atmosphere of violence and the tension tend to affect children deeply. To be stopped in the street and body searched by a soldier can leave an imprint for years. Younger human beings have less ability to see the context and understand why people behave as they do and, certainly, their time perspective is different. All this makes them so much more vulnerable.


Some lessons were drawn at the Belfast conference in February 1996 and in the report from the UN Study on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children. One was the importance of bringing as much stability as possible to the child's every day life. When families begin to be dysfunctional it becomes particularly important that the schools and day care centres function well. This may require additional political and budgetary decisions.

The need for "stability" includes also getting honest answers on what is going on. It is not helpful for children that they are "protected" from talks about the acute issues. This is true also long after the violent crisis. The school has an enormously important role in giving children a chance to discuss their own history.


Another lesson which was drawn in the UN Study was the need to protect children as much as possible from direct contact with violence. We used the phrase of children being a "zone of peace". This is of course more complicated when militias, insurgent groups and terrorists are active - they are seldom caring for child rights. However, also official counter-insurgency measures have sometimes violated the principle that children should be spared.


Teenagers do take part in protest actions and sometimes confront the army or the police. Again, this has to be handled in a manner which protects their basic rights, including their right to life. We discussed rubber bullets at the conference 1996 and said that such ammunition should not be used because of the risk for severe damage.


I am aware that new variations of plastic bullets or "baton rounds" have been designed but I am still concerned that the use of such riot control measures may be harmful, even lethal in the worst of cases. The burden of proof is here on those who approve the use of such bullets - can they guarantee for sure that they may never have a harmful effect on child? If that cannot be shown, such ammunition should be withdrawn. The same argument would go for the use of tasers ("stun" guns with high voltage).


The third lesson relate to the need for genuine support to children who have been traumatized. It is true that children normally have an astonishing capacity to heal and that they often can take bad experiences, if they have some support. But there is a limit, especially if the family situation is damaged. The more violent society has been or still is, the more one needs to invest in mental health services for children and adolescents.


A sad relationship has been shown in several countries - within communities struck by violent conflict there is a higher risk of domestic violence. What happens in the streets tends to have chain effects in the homes.


Domestic violence is always negative for the children even if they are not the direct target. To see one's mother beaten up is painful for every child. We also know that corporal punishment of children still is a problem in spite of all efforts to make reality of the rights of the child.


We are taking an absolute stand against corporal punishment of children. We do not accept the idea of "reasonable chastisement". Why should a child have to suffer being beaten up while the same treatment of adults is seen as intolerable?


International and European standards are clear on this. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, the case-law of the European Court of Human Rights and the European Committee of Social Rights, clearly prohibits the use of corporal punishment in schools, community as well as at home.


Further international documents such as declarations, recommendations or the recent UN study on violence insist on the necessity to make the world free of any kind of violence against children. The Council of Europe aims at establishing by 2009 Europe as an area free of violence as it previously did with death penalty.


The objective of a ban is not to put a police officer or a social worker behind every adult. The intention is to alter public attitudes towards violence against children and establish a clear framework for parent education and support. This would also facilitate earlier and less intrusive interventions in cases where children are at risk.


The adoption of a law clearly banning corporal punishment is a first step to prove the willingness of society to stop violence against children. A law sends an important signal but should be supplemented by educational and other means to secure a safe upbringing.


Parenting should be supported - in the best interest of the child. It is significant that the Convention on the Rights of the Child has replaced the concept of parents' rights with parental responsibilities. The perspective of assisting parents with problems is a key one. Unfortunately, those parents who are most in need of support tend to be the ones who never ask for help. This requires a spirit within social, health and school authorities which defend the rights of children at risk in a sensitive but effective manner.


Using violence against children only leads to an escalation of violence. Non-violent conflict resolution, tolerance and respect for others should be taught through setting good examples. How can we expect children to take human rights seriously and to help build a culture of human rights, while we adults not only persist in slapping, spanking, smacking and beating them, but actually defend doing so as being 'for their own good'? Smacking children is not just a lesson in bad behaviour; it is a potent demonstration of contempt for the human rights of smaller, weaker people.

I asked the youth advisory group at the Children's Law Centre over lunch today what they thought about physical punishment. Their response was very clear. They find such behaviour wrong for four reasons:

  • that it is against kids' rights;
  • that it can damage them physically;
  • that it could get worse - parents do not always know when to stop; and
  • that it makes kids themselves violent.


Corporal punishment is a very personal problem. Most adults were hit as children and may have hit their own children. It is difficult for many to recognise that we, adults, can also make some mistakes.


Politicians find this an unpopular issue; it is easier to focus only on extreme forms of violence to children and on violence by children, against which there is already a popular consensus. Also, many politicians are particularly wary of interference in the traditionally 'private' arena of the family. Accepting to ban corporal punishment therefore means that we could have been wrong in the way we raised our child and our parents too. It is a difficult recognition that we, adults, can also make some mistakes.


Ending violence against children requires a strategy combining short-term measures including legal reform to clearly prohibit all forms of corporal punishment and longer-term measures to influence social attitude and promote positive alternative methods of relating and communicating. Any such strategy should include the following steps:

  • review of existing legislation to ensure effective prohibition of all corporal punishment;
  • orientation of parents and child professionals about the rationale for abandoning corporal punishment as a form of discipline in the home and in institutions - this could include information on legal reform against corporal punishment in other countries and its positive effects;
  • information to children about their rights including the right to be treated with respect. This should be part of the school curricula but also be disseminated through the mass media;
  • clear guidance to teachers and pre-school staff, health personnel, social workers and other key professionals on their role in preventing such violations and how to respond in concrete situations when there are indications that a child may suffer abuse and need help;
  • research in order to develop a better understanding of the magnitude and nature of the practice and to identify groups of children at particular risk, and
  • parent education courses and discussions - involving children - on child-rearing practices and positive, non-violent forms of discipline in homes, schools and institutions.


We define children as individuals between birth and 18 and we are aware that not all of them are innocent angels. They may disturb and even break the law. Still they should enjoy their human rights as children. The Polish doctor, writer and child rights advocate Janusz Korczak summarized the point in one simple sentence: "The delinquent child is still a child".


The treatment of young law offenders has become one of the urgent challenges in the work to make reality of the rights of the child. We are upset about youth criminality and this has encouraged the trend in several European countries towards locking up more adolescents, at an earlier age, for an increasing number of offences. This is not in the spirit of child rights. More punishment for individuals who essentially are victims of social problems and family shortcomings is not a good solution.


Children who misbehave should be told so but there are other means than criminalizing them. The Convention of the Rights if the Child makes clear that depriving minor of their liberty must be the very last resort and used only in the extreme cases and for the short possible period of time when the security of the child or other individuals is at risk. The formal age of criminal responsibility should not be set too law - 10 or 12 years of age is clearly too low.


I have been surprised by reports about the Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO) which authorizes a magistrate to prohibit a person from entering a specific geographic area if he or she has behaved in an anti-social manner. While this behaviour may not have been criminal, the breach of conditions set out by the magistrate is a criminal offence. Hearsay evidence and anonymous testimony are admissible as evidence in the proceedings.


My predecessor reacted against this provision in a report and my reaction is the same. I hope other means can be developed of coping with children who misbehave. It is possible to make clear to young people that certain activities are unacceptable without "naming and shaming" them and without detaining them when they have ignored such orders.


The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child introduced an important concept: "the best interest of the child". The idea is that when decisions are taken which affect children their best interests should be a primary consideration. This requires that we seriously try to define what in different situations really is the best for the child and this, in turn, makes it necessary that decision makers develop a capacity to listen to children. In this area, much remains to be done - not least among politicians.


Child rights are not about laissez-faire, not about denying children their responsibility - but corrective measures should be humane and commensurate to the age of the child.


Child rights are about respect for the child. Not least, it is a question of listening to him and her. Let me conclude with a quote of the Polish writer, doctor and educationalist Janusz Korczak who worked with some 200 orphans in the Warsaw ghetto during the Nazi occupation until the day in August 1942 when he, his colleagues and all the children were marched to a train taking them to Treblinka. Until then he had strived to give the children - in spite of the grim reality outside their common home - both love and dignity.

Korczak has more clearly than anyone else formulated what the rights of the child really are about. One of his key messages was precisely the value of respecting children:


"The first and undisputable right of the child is the right to express his or her thoughts, to take active part in assessments and judgements concerning themselves. When we mature and start respecting and trusting children, when they find trust in us adults and do express what they think themselves about their rights - then the problems will be reduced and the mistakes will be fewer."


This is the way to move when we have fallen down. 


Physical Punishment in Northern Ireland

“The ‘Smacking Debate’ in Northern Ireland – Messages from Research” 


To help inform the debate on physical punishment, NICCY (Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People), NSPCC NI and Barnardo’s NI undertook an evidence based review of the subject area, the findings of which can now be found at:

Recent news

Report calls for prohibition in Scotland

Date: December 2015

A systematic review of research literature on physical punishment, jointly commissioned by Barnardo’s Scotland, Children 1st, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland and NSPCC Scotland was published in November

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Corporal punishment to be banned in madrassas

Date: December 2015

On November 27 the Government published plans to prohibit corporal punishment in all part-time educational settings, including madrassas (see: consultation). The proposals also aim to prevent children being “radicalised” in madrassas...

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