Majority of public want children in England to have same protection from assault as adults

Last year Childline delivered almost 900 counselling sessions to children with concerns about physical punishment.


We’re calling on the Westminster Government to give children in England equal protection from assault by scrapping the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’.

Our call to action comes on the one-year anniversary of the introduction of equal protection in Wales, which made any type of corporal punishment, including smacking, hitting, slapping, and shaking, illegal.

Wales and Scotland are among more than 60 other countries around the world that have brought in similar measures to give children the same protection from assault that adults have.

The moves in other countries reflect a growing evidence base on the detrimental effects of, and changing public attitudes to, physical punishment of children.

Researchers at University College of London (UCL) and an international team of experts have analysed 20 years of research on the topic. Their conclusion in 2021 was that physical punishment is ineffective and harmful and has no benefits for children and their families.

Over the last year our Childline service has also delivered hundreds of counselling sessions to children and young people who reached out for help with their concerns about physical punishment.

To coincide with the milestone anniversary in Wales we’ve revealed the results of a new YouGov survey of almost 3,500 adults across England, which shows1:

  • For a second year in a row two thirds of people (67%) across England think physically disciplining a child isn't acceptable.
  • Of those who expressed an opinion 63% believe that a change of law to remove the defence should be passed in England. Surprisingly, almost three in five (60%) thought it was already illegal to physically punish a child.
  • The majority (61%) of adults in England who express an opinion believe physical punishment weakens the relationship between a parent and their child.
  • An even higher percentage of the public (67%) who express an opinion believe physical punishment has a negative impact on a child’s mental health.
  • When asked about the impact on the child 46% believe physical punishment worsens their behaviour compared to 39% who said it makes it better (also of those who expressed an opinion).

The UCL research also showed physical punishment does not improve children's behaviour and instead increases behavioural difficulties, such as aggression and anti-social behaviour.

It also revealed that children who are the recipients of physical punishment are at increased risk of being subjected to more severe levels of violence2.

We’ve long promoted positive alternatives to physical punishment.

Sir Peter Wanless, CEO of the NSPCC, said:


“Every year Childline provides support to hundreds of children who contact us with concerns about physical punishment. Evidence also shows that this form of discipline is ineffective and harmful and does not benefit families. 

“There is now a solid and significant majority of the public who believe we need a change of law in England to ensure children have the same protection from assault as adults.

“It cannot be right that in this country it is illegal to hit an adult, but equal protection is not given to a child. We need put the wellbeing of children first and bring an end to this legal anomaly.”

Contacts to Childline

We often receive calls to Childline from young people concerned about the impact of physical punishment on their health and behaviour. Last year, Childline held 898 counselling sessions where a young person mentioned physical punishment.

A 12-year-old girl who contacted Childline said:

“My mum heard me swearing from the other room today. I know I shouldn’t swear, it always gets me in trouble and makes mum act scary. Mum hit me so hard this time, harder than usual. She was screaming and hit me in the head so hard I fell into the wall. I still feel a bit dizzy now and there’s a lump. I don’t know how to make it stop.”

Equal protection in Wales

The Welsh Parliament passed the Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) Wales Act, in 2020, with the change in the law coming into force exactly one year ago.

Wales and Scotland are among more than 60 other countries around the world that no longer tolerate any physical violence against children, in the same way they don’t for adults.

We’re now calling on the Government to follow suit in England and end the legal anomaly which currently allows parents and carers to use a defence of “reasonable chastisement” after striking a child.

Lynn Perry MBE, CEO of Barnardo’s, said:

“Physical punishment of children is totally unacceptable. At Barnardo’s we know that eliminating physical punishment brings significant benefits to families, and our frontline workers tell us it helps to create a safe and nurturing environment for children. The NSPCC’s new polling confirms that a majority of the public recognise this too.

“For all these reasons we support the call to make physical punishment of children illegal across the UK to ensure children in England and Northern Ireland have the same protection as those in Scotland and Wales.”

Anja Heilmann added:

“It is heartening to see that yet again, a large majority of the public in England have said that hitting children in the name of 'discipline' is not acceptable. This is the second recent survey in a row showing that attitudes towards physical punishment have significantly shifted over the last few decades, and the public is now ahead of the Government in England in recognising that physically hurting a child is harmful and can never be justified.

“Decades’ worth of research has shown unequivocally that they are right – physical punishment is ineffective and detrimental to children's development in many ways. It also violates children’s human rights enshrined in the UNCRC. To learn and thrive, children need to feel safe. Scotland and Wales have shown the way. Children in England deserve equal protection now.”


  1. 1. All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 3,497 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 28th February - 2nd March 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all adults in England (aged 18+). The full results can be found here.