Questions and answers

Is it really legal to hurt children?

Yes! The law in England says that parents and other adults can hurt children (in law, “child” usually means somebody aged under 18) to punish them as long as they don't leave a mark. This often – but not always – means “smacking” them.


The law protects children in some places. People who work in schools, children’s homes, children’s centres, nurseries and other kinds of day care, childminders and most foster carers are not allowed to hit children.


But other adults are allowed to punish children by hitting them. This means that parents, other family members, family friends, babysitters and others are allowed to hurt children. It does not matter what children’s parents think – even if a child’s parents do not want the child to be hit, other adults are still allowed to hit them.

Why should the law change?

If you are a child or young person, then right now, the law in England gives you less protection from violence than all adults have.


At the moment, the law says that an adult is not allowed to hit another adult, but is allowed to hit a child. We think this wrong. Hitting a child is just as wrong and just as violent as hitting an adult. It can hurt just as much and be just as upsetting.


People around the world agree that everyone has certain basic rights. These are often called human rights. Children have human rights just as adults do. One of these rights is the right to be fully protected from violence. It shouldn’t matter how young or old you are, where the hitting happens or who does it – it’s wrong to hit you, and the law should say so! 

If smacking was banned, would a parent who just loses their temper and smacks their child once go to prison?

Giving children equal protection from violence is not about punishing parents – it is about protecting children. Children should only be taken away from their parents if they are at risk of being seriously hurt. If not, support and help should be offered to the family, instead of taking the child away or punishing the parent.


At the moment, it is illegal for adults to hit each other, but an adult who just loses their temper and hits another adult once lightly is very unlikely to go to court, let alone prison. The same would be true for parents who hit children. But changing the law would make it easier to prosecute parents and adults who do seriously hurt children. And, most importantly, it would discourage adults from hitting children in the first place.

Have any other countries banned hitting children?

Yes, 33 countries have made it illegal for all adults, including parents, to hit children. This includes three countries in South America, five countries in Africa and more than half of the countries in Europe. You can find out more about them here.

What about parents' rights? Don't parents have a right to treat their children how they choose to?

No, they don't. Nobody has the right to hurt another person. But children have the right to be fully protected from violence, including in their own homes.

But smacking isn't real violence, so why should it be banned?

“Smacking” is a word that is used to make hitting children sound better. It is just as violent to hit a child as it is to hit an adult.

I was smacked and it never did me any harm, so why should it be banned?

Lots of people, both children and adults, have been hit by their parents, and lots of parents have hit their children. Nobody likes to think bad things about their parents or about the way they bring up their own children. This makes it difficult for many people, especially adults, to admit that “smacking” is a bad thing.


But now it’s time to move on. There is no point in blaming parents who have “smacked” their children in the past – usually they were just doing what they thought was normal. But children have the right to protection from being hit. “Smacks” can be very painful and deeply humiliating. Changing the law would help more adults realise that hitting children is wrong, so more children would be safe from violence.

Who can I talk to about violence that I or my friends have experienced?

You can talk to an adult you know and trust or contact Childline by phone (0800 1111) or online.  

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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