It’s one of the most controversial parenting topics, but what are the laws on smacking children in Australia?

It's more common than you may think.
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When it comes to parenting, there’s one debate that’s divided parents for years.

Smacking children has long been a tactic when disciplining children and whilst some see it as abuse, others see it as a last resort when all other options have failed.

A 2014 report by UNICEF found that 80 per cent of children around the world are smacked or otherwise physically punished by their parents. But what are the facts and laws in Australia?

What are the laws around smacking children in Australia?

While some countries including Ireland, Scotland and France have completely prohibited corporal punishment of children, in Australia smacking is permitted by law by a parent or carer. However, it has to be “reasonable”.

“In some states there is a common law defence permitting parents [and sometimes teachers] lawfully to administer ‘reasonable’ corporal punishment, while in other states the defence is contained in legislation,” Patrick Lenta, an associate Professor in the Law Faculty at University of Technology Sydney told ABC News.

For example in New South Wales, physical punishment by a parent should not harm a child more than briefly and there are parts of a child’s body such as the head and neck that cannot be subject to force.

You can read more about the specific laws in your state or territory here.

Smacking children is still legal in Australia if you’re a parent or carer.


How many Aussies think smacking children in acceptable?

Former Prime Minister Tony Abbott once claimed that “occasionally the best thing that we can give a kid is a smack, but it can never be something that hurts them”. And it seems many Australians are on his side.

Here in Australia, the 2019 Australia Talks National Survey found that almost half of Australians (47 per cent) believe it’s acceptable, whilst 38 per cent disagreed.

The survey also found that older participants agreed that smacking was an acceptable form of discipline.

Tony Abbott told Liberal defector Cory Bernardi he hasn't given up hope of a returning to leadership

Former PM Tony Abbott admitted in 2013 that he had punished his daughters with “pretty gentle smacks”.


What does science say about smacking?

In 2017, a study from the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Michigan found that smacking, defined as an open-handed hit on the behind or extremities, led to anti-social behaviours, aggression and mental health issues in adulthood.

“We found that spanking was associated with unintended detrimental outcomes and was not associated with more immediate or long-term compliance, which are parents’ intended outcomes when they discipline their children,” explained expert Elizabeth Gershoff in the wake of the findings.

“The upshot of the study is that spanking increases the likelihood of a wide variety of undesired outcomes for children. Spanking thus does the opposite of what parents usually want it to do,” adds study co-author Andrew Grogan-Kaylor.

WATCH BELOW: Teacher arrested after repeatedly smacking student. Post continues after video…

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What’s more, that same year researchers from The University of Texas Medical Branch (UTMB) found that 68 per cent of adults surveyed who were smacked in childhood were more likely to be physically aggressive towards their partners as adults.

“Parents are a child’s first look at relationships and how conflicts are handled. Corporal punishment is communicating to children that violence is an acceptable means of changing behaviour,” UTMB’s senior author Jeff Temple said at the time.

If you or someone you know has been affected by any of the issues raised in this article, help is always available. Call Lifeline on 13 11 14.

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