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Children\'s Commissioner For England Maggie Atkinson calls for smacking to be banned

Parents should be banned from smacking children, says the Children's Commissioner for England, Maggie Atkinson.

She told the Independent that the current law gave pets and adults more legal protection from violence than children.

The legislation stipulates that parents can hit a child if it constitutes 'reasonable chastisement' and does not leave any serious marks.

But Atkinson thinks the law should be changed to ban smacking altogether and make parents face criminal action.

She said: "Personally, having been a teacher, and never having had an issue where I'd need to use physical punishment, I believe we should move to ban it.

"Because in law you are forbidden from striking another adult, and from physically chastising your pets, but somehow there is a loophole around the fact that you can physically chastise your child. It's counter-evidential."

She said it was "a moral issue" and "taken to its extreme, physical chastisement is actually physical abuse".

A government spokeswoman told the Independent that, while ministers did not "condone violence towards children", they did not "wish to criminalise parents for issuing a mild smack".

The NSPCC has said evidence proves that smacking is "ineffective and harmful to children".

"There are more positive ways to discipline children and a clear message that hitting anyone is not right would benefit all of society," a spokesman said.

Atkinson, who has two adult step-children, said that despite her strong feelings about the issue, her office was not planning to fight for a ban in 2014 because in the current climate such a move would be "running up a blind alley".

She said: "I don't know if we'd speak out on smacking because there's a lot of other things in the queue," she said. "It's a poor use of resources. The behind-the-scenes conversations don't stop."

The debate on smacking "becomes very emotive really quickly", she said, adding that she wanted to be a "measured" voice on the issue.

Education and a change in the law would make life safer for vulnerable children, she claimed. "No public body can be behind the front door of every family in the land, as we know from tragic cases in our headlines.

"Better by far that you are taught not to need to use physical strength against a weaker human being."

Her comments are likely to reignite the debate about what constitutes "reasonable" punishment of children.

Last year the MP David Lammy provoked outrage when he said that parents' fear of being prosecuted if they smacked their offspring had been partly to blame for the bad behaviour that led to the London riots.