Ban on smacking children came into force at midnight

Minister James Reilly says move will lead to cultural change over disciplining young

Legal changes aimed at banning the slapping or use of force against children came into law on Friday.

Minister for Children Dr James Reilly has signed a commencement order which removes the defence of "reasonable chastisement" in cases where a person uses corporal punishment against a child.

He said he hoped the move would lead to a cultural change across Irish society over the use of physical punishment.

While legislation which allowed parents to use force against their children was repealed almost 15 years ago, the defence of reasonable chastisement has remained in common law for parents or child carers.

Significant advance

Dr Reilly said the new measure represents a significant advance regarding the protection and rights of children.

"It reinforces the developing impetus in parenting practice in Ireland to use positive discipline strategies in the upbringing of children which reject the use of corporal punishment," he said.

In May of this year, Europe’s top human rights body ruled that Ireland’s laws on corporal punishment were in breach of the European Social Charter.

The charter commits signatories to “protect children and young persons against negligence, violence or exploitation”.

Less socially acceptable

Studies suggest that while smacking is becoming less socially acceptable in Ireland, it remains widely used as a way of disciplining children on occasion.

The Growing Up in Ireland study of three-year-olds found up to 45 per cent of their primary caregivers smacked them sometimes.

Campaign groups such as the Children’s Rights Alliance, which lobbied for the legal change over a number of years, have pointed out that the use of smacking has fallen dramatically in countries which have banned the practice.

Tanya Ward of the alliance has said the removal of the defence means Ireland is on a journey towards fully shifting public attitudes.