Is smacking illegal in the UK? Laws on smacking and slapping children explained - as Wales introduces ban

The law will apply to everyone in Wales

Wales has made the smacking or slapping of children illegal, joining more than 60 nations in outlawing the physical punishment of children.

But is smacking illegal elsewhere in the UK?

Here’s what you need to know.

What does the ban in Wales mean?

From Monday 21 March, any type of corporal punishment, including smacking, hitting, slapping and shaking, is illegal under the Children (Abolition Of Defence Of Reasonable Punishment - Wales) Act of 2020.

This marks the end of the common law defence of "reasonable punishment" and means children and adults in Wales will have the same protection from assault.

The law will apply to everyone in Wales, including those visiting the country. It will also cover anyone responsible for a child while parents are absent.

First Minister Mark Drakeford said: "The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child makes it clear that children have the right to be protected from harm and from being hurt and this includes physical punishment.

"That right is now enshrined in Welsh law - no more grey areas, no more ‘defence of reasonable punishment’. That is all in the past."

Previously in Wales, smacking a child was unlawful, but was allowed if it constituted "reasonable punishment".

What are the rules elsewhere in the UK?

Smacking a child is unlawful in England, but is allowed if it constitutes "reasonable punishment".

According to Child Law Advice: "It is unlawful for a parent or carer to smack their child, except where this amounts to ‘reasonable punishment’. This defence is laid down in section 58 Children Act 2004, but it is not defined in this legislation.

"Whether a ‘smack’ amounts to reasonable punishment will depend on the circumstances of each case, taking into consideration factors like the age of the child and the nature of the smack.

"There are strict guidelines covering the use of reasonable punishment and it will not be possible to rely on the defence if you use severe physical punishment on your child which amounts to wounding, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm or child cruelty."

Similarly to England, in Northern Ireland the defence of “reasonable chastisement” can still be used.

However, Scotland introduced its own ban in November 2020. All forms of physical punishment of children are now against the law in Scotland, with children having the same legal protection from assault as adults.