Is it illegal to smack children in the UK?

Topic Selected: Families and Parenting

General Article icon Type: General Article

Smacking may make parenting harder in the long run, not easier.

By Tamsin Kelly

What’s the current law on smacking children in the UK?

It is legal for a parent or carer to smack their own child in England, Wales and Northern Ireland when it amounts to ‘reasonable punishment’, as laid down in section 58 of the Children Act 2004. 

But whether a smack can be judged reasonable punishment will depend on the age of the child and the force involved in smacking. Parents have the right to choose to discipline their children with a smack, but there is a fine line between what some parents would regard as ‘reasonable’ (and therefore a defence in law) and assault, which is a criminal offence.

Hitting a child in a way which causes wounding, actual bodily harm, grievous bodily harm or child cruelty are all illegal. A parent could be charged with common assault if a child is left with any of these injuries:

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