Is It Legal To Smack Your Child?

Image: iStock

It's a controversial topic but there are many parents out there who prefer to give their kids a smack as a way to discipline them. Some parents find hitting a child, no matter how softly you do it, absolutely deplorable. But is smacking your kids even legal? We have the answer.

Wooden spoons were once the weapon of choice for mothers who wanted to physically punish their children. My mum was a seamstress and preferred a long, thick wooden ruler used to measure fabric. These days, time-poor parents use a quick smack, often delivered in the heat of the moment when their children are behaving badly.

In a poll of nearly 1400 Australians by News Corp, 75.7% considered it acceptable to smack children as a way to deter them from misbehaving. Meanwhile 39.5% said they would be furious if they see their friends smack their kids.

It's definitely a controversial topic but according to the law, it's not illegal to smack your children in Australia. However, there are conditions. According to the Australian Institute Of Family Studies:

"In some jurisdictions a parent's right to use corporal punishment is provided for in legislation (e.g., New South Wales), while in others it is provided for by the common law ("judge-made law") (e.g., Victoria). All Australian states and territories condone (in principle) the use of force by a parent, by way of correction, towards a child."

For example, in NSW, prior to 2002 it was up to judges to decide what kind of physical punishment was acceptable. Since the state introduced the Crimes Amendment (Child Protection Physical Measures Act, there is now clarification on what kind of physical punishment is permissible on a child.

According to the amendment, it's okay to use physical force on a child provided that it "was reasonable having regard to the age, health, maturity or other characteristics of the child, the nature of the alleged misbehaviour or other circumstances". Also, you can't hit them above the neck or "any other part of the body of the child in such a way as to be likely to cause harm to the child that lasts for more than a short period".

Here's a breakdown of how the each state deals with physical punishment of a child:

  • ACT: No legislation relating to corporal punishment by parents. Relies on common law defence. See Children's Services Act, 1986 (ACT)
  • NSW:Laws specify that physical punishment by a parent "shouldn't harm a child more than briefly" and limits the use of excessive physical force to punish children. See Crimes Amendment (Child Protection-Physical Mistreatment) Act 2001 (NSW)
  • NT: Lawful for parents and teachers (unless expressly told not by parents) can use physical force to discipline a child. Under the Criminal Code Act:

    "In the circumstances following, the application of force is justified provided it is not unnecessary force and it is not intended and is not such as is likely to cause death or serious harm: in the case of a parent or guardian of a child, or a person in the place of such parent or guardian, to discipline, manage or control such child".

    See Criminal Code Act (NT), Section 27.

  • VIC:No legislation relating to corporal punishment by parents. Relies on common law defence.
  • QLD: According to The Criminal Code Act 1899:

    " It is lawful for a parent or a person in the place of a parent ... to use, by way of correction, discipline, management or control, towards a child or pupil, under the person's care, such force that is reasonable under the circumstances." See The Criminal Code Act 1899 (QLD) Section 280.

  • SA: No legislation relating to corporal punishment by parents. Relies on common law defence. See Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (SA), Section 20
  • WA:Physical punishment by a parent towards a child is lawful under the Criminal Code Act 1913 (WA): "It is lawful for a parent or a person in the place of a parent ... to use, by way of correction, toward a child or pupil under his care, such force as is reasonable under the circumstances." See Criminal Code Act 1913 (WA), Section 257
  • TAS: Physical punishment by a parent towards a child is lawful under the Criminal Code Act 1924 (TAS): "It is lawful for a parent or a person in the place of a parent to use, by way of correction, any force towards a child in his or her care that is reasonable in the circumstances." See Criminal Code Act 1924 (TAS), Section 50

As you can see, it is deemed acceptable to smack your child without using excessive force. But if you go overboard and seriously harm your child, that's considered child abuse and is absolutely illegal.

I think a pertinent question to ask is whether physical punishment is effective. I'm not a parent so it's hard for me to weigh in on the issue with much authority, but I always thought my dad's psychological tactics affected me more than my mother's painful whacks with the giant ruler.

Are you for or against physically punishing children when they misbehave? Let us know in the comments.

Did you just catch yourself wondering if something was legal or not? Let us know and we may be able to answer it in our next Is It Legal? feature.


Comments

    It's a tough one. I was brought up ruled over by many a broken wooden spoon...until my mum switched to plastic (Damn you Tuppaware!), then I really smartened up. Ask me what I was being smacked for and i couldn't tell you. Which is part of the issue, as in some cases it doesn't address the issue long term.

    Personally it makes my stomach churn to even consider hitting my own, but then every child is different and each one responds differently to punishment. It's just a case of finding the right type of punishment to suit the child and situation.

    Imagine if you're a parent who's child uses the tablet a lot and you take it away for a week because they bit a sibling. For some kids that's worse than a smack. Same can be said for a number of activities, take it away or set them to do a task they hate and it can be just as effective.

    Kids learn by imitation. If you hurt them when they don't do what you want, they'll learn that having authority means being able to hurt people to make them do what you want. Regardless of whether it's effective in the moment, it's a shitty example to set.

      Thats not altogether true, they learn by what gets the desired outcome the quickest. If a kid cries and cries and cries and mum gives in and gives them what they want, they'll repeat that forever. Same applies in your case, they see a smack as getting what a parent wants and they pick up on that, but its not as simple as learning by imitation. Its the desired outcome they see and want. In my case, if I say "no", that means I don't give in. They've learnt very quickly that if they keep asking, it turns into "no for longer". Much less desired outcome, so it doesn't happen anymore.

      I was smacked as a child, and I don't display the characteristics you mention.

      I am a 13 year old Muslim girl. My parents hit me and all 4 of my siblings. I am the oldest. At school my brother and sister got in trouble several times for hitting slapping and pinching other students. I hate my life I hate my parents. That's all that goes through my mind when they hit me. Once my dad lifted me and slammed me when I was young and my back hurt for several days. Nothing good comes out of hitting except more hate and rebellion. I get hit for very stupid reasons and my parents expect me to be perfect and make no mistakes. I'm not sure if this is child abuse or not. My parents are now forcing me to wear a hijab and I quote " You don't have a choice anymore, your not leaving this house without a hijab!". Yeah and I guess it's not much of a surprise that I'm contemplating suicide, is it?

        Hang in there Aisha, maybe speak to a school councillor or similar about your problems at home. Like the article says it's not illegal what they're doing, so the cops won't get called, but hopefully you can talk more about how you're felling and work out strategies to help feel better. Suicide is def not the answer. In the whole scheme of life u only have a few more years until you will be bigger and stronger and then an adult. My dad hit me until I was 17 and run out the house screaming. I think that made him realise how bad it was lol. Good luck.

        Aisha although this article says hitting your child is not illegal. It sounds like your parents have used excessive force and the factor that you've disclosed that your psychological state you not good due to the treatment from your parents, that is considered abuse. There are helplines you can call to speak to people and get some advise. But please don't consider suicide, I was once a teenage who didn't have a great life and I am so glad that I made it through and out the other side because now I have my own life and am very happy and have a child of my own.

        Have you tried calling, emailing or messaging Kids Helpline or Lifeline? Is there a teacher, friend, or relative you could talk to about this? What about the parent of a friend? Slamming a child against a wall like that is not only morally wrong and dangerous, it’s illegal.

        I hope things turn out well for you.

        Exactly my parents (mostly my dad) gets annoyed if we (my 6 siblings and i) dont do anything right he yells Swears calls us names and it really gets to my head my mom on the other hand complains about me being tomboy shes a fricken prefectionist andni cant take it my mind just beats me up and always comes to the thought of Suicide iv told my schcool about it but its honestly not helping at all i cant take it anymore if they find me dead well then it’s their fault

    Its not as simple as a "yes" or "no" answer. Is it acceptable to smack your child for not turning off the TV when told? No its not. You turn off the TV and hide the remote/power cable for a week. I smacked my daughter when I caught her tearing pages out of one of her sisters books and spitting on them. Immediate consequence for such an awful thing to do. Its not something you can count to 3, not something you can just take away something, and to this day she has never done that since.

    Here's another moral question for you, one day my daughter decided to pour liquid soap into our dogs water bowl. I didn't discover it until the next day after she'd been sick. What I chose to do was pour soap into her cup of water and demanded she drink it. After many tears and apologies, I said she didn't have to but asked if she understood what she had done. She did and our dog hasn't had to drink soap ever since. It worked and it got the point across, but I'm sure many would object to my feeding my girl soap (thank you internet anonymity). Would a smack have been a better choice? I didn't think so - the act was done the day before and there wouldn't have been any correlation to the act. Certainly not something you would count to 3 or give a warning for, nor "timeout".

    This is a tough one. My brothers and I were demons growing up and my dainty 5" mum could only deal with us by smacking us with a frying pan repeatedly. We all grew up OK and we look back on those frying pan punishments fondly.

    I think we shouldn't demonize parents who smack their kids. As every kid is a snowflake, so are their parental circumstances. I do however prefer parents talking to the kid first before smacking them. Smacking should be a last resort if the child is not open to diplomacy or becomes violent. It goes without saying 3 boys fighting over the last piece of fried chicken is pretty much war and no amount of talking or yelling can stop them.

      Science disagrees with you. Anecdotal evidence is not factual evidence

      http://www.bellybelly.com.au/child/11-reasons-why-smacking-is-ineffective-and-damaging/

      http://www.abc.net.au/health/thepulse/stories/2013/08/29/3836505.htm

        By science, you mean the right pixels that Google promptly found for you?

        When one scientist disagrees with another who do you choose to believe?

        I have another question, which doesn't seem to get asked ever.
        How is physical punishment different from any other kind of punishment?
        All in all there are 2 types of punishments, Physical and Mental/Emotional, I would propose that physical discipline is the least damaging in the long term when done correctly. The point of any punishment is to make sure the child understands what they did is wrong. If the outcome of punishment is that the child is scared of you then you administered the punishment wrong.

    Absolutely never smack your children. Why? There are far more effective punishments which actually deter the behaviour you wish to stop and reinforce the behaviours you wish to continue. Think of it like this - if someone who wasn't your child was acting in a way you would normally smack your child over, would it be legal or even moral to smack them? You don't own your children.

    Only neanderthals resort to violence against a child.

    http://www.bellybelly.com.au/child/11-reasons-why-smacking-is-ineffective-and-damaging/

    http://www.abc.net.au/health/thepulse/stories/2013/08/29/3836505.htm

      Maybe you should try parenting before espousing crass conclusions - it only demonstrates your inability to debate rationally.

      Oh wait, that's a common substitute for discussion in today's world.

        Your name is highly ironic.

        Last edited 11/10/16 4:16 pm

    Smacking OTHER people's kids. Now there's a controversial topic. My 3 year old son has a friend who is a bit rough sometimes but he's a good kid. When I picked him up from his playgroup / daycare there was this random mother (not his own) giving him a good smack because he didn't want to share a toy with her kid. I mean wtf?! Isn't that police material?

      I'm pretty sure that's not legal. The law (in some of the states) clearly state that the punishment needs to be dished out by "a parent or guardian".

      It's also extremely rude and inappropriate. Who the heck goes around smacking other people's children?!

        Consider that kid in the economy class seat behind you. The one who keeps kicking the back of your seat during that 18 hour flight from SF to Sydney.

          If they were an adult, would you smack them?

          Put your seat up - problem solved.

    Proverbs.29:15 - "The rod (or discipline) and reproof impart wisdom, But a child left unrestrained brings shame on his mother."
    Proverbs.1:8 - "Listen, my son, to the discipline of your father, And do not forsake the instruction of your mother."
    But always administered with "mildness, self-control. Against such things there is no law." Galatians.5:23

    Im a father to five kids including two with extra difficulties. Smacking is my nuclear weapon of parenting tools. Its a last resort and when its used we have all lost. The last time I used it was when one kid bit the other and would not let go.........I find if the kid is moderately smart other strategies are far more effective than smacking. The less smart ones often need a more immediate form of behaviour correction, especially if other kids are in harms way.

    science = find an article on the internet that agrees with my opinion. not hard to find an article or two to back up either argument.

    I have 3 children all under 10. Smacking is used as a last resort, for exceptionally bad behavior. My wife and I take the "no rewards/take away luxury's" approach. Problem becomes what next when they just don't care if things are taken away from them. Take away xbox, tv, computers... I have even taken apart my sons computer in front of him... next day, bad behavior continues. In my experience, the more you try to use non corporal discipline, the child just doesn't care. first time yes, second time, sure... but if it becomes a weekly occurrence, it looses its impact.

    My wife never uses smacking, the kids run riot over her. I come home from work, tell the kids to get things done... it happens! Wife continues to comment, "why wont they act like this for me?"

    I agree with smacking your children, I mean I only have depression and suicidal thoughts!

Join the discussion!