'It is time to stop putting children second in the UK and USA'

July 15, 2004

The lead editorial this week focuses on the rights of children and is critical of the UK House of Lords amendment for failing to recommend the outlawing of the smacking of children, and of the USA for the detention of children with psychiatric illness.

With regard to the recent UK House of Lords amendment, the editorial comments: 'The amendment ignores the wealth of evidence that hitting children not only increases the chances of aggressive and antisocial behaviour, and mental illness, in the children, but also induces these same traits when they reach adulthood, in addition to an increased risk of abusing their own child or spouse. There is also evidence, summarised in a review of meta-analyses, published in Psychological Bulletin in 2002, that hitting children can escalate into what is defined as child abuse. In this review, corporal punishment (defined as physical force used with the intention of causing pain but not injury) was linked with only one desirable behaviour--increased immediate compliance. Campaigners such as the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children point out that the Lords vote fails to give children the same protection from assault that adults have.'

Recent evidence presented to a US senate committee concerning the incarceration of 15,000 children in juvenile detention centres is also discussed: 'Such obvious failings in the US states' legal and medical systems have already led to calls for more community mental-health services, together with greater cooperation between law enforcement and mental health agencies. But when children in the USA are deprived of their right of access to appropriate health-care services, what hope is there for those in less privileged environments?'

The editorial concludes: 'Children worldwide have the right to be brought up free from fear of physical abuse, psychological harm, or loss of dignity, and to receive the best health care attainable. There is no excuse for British and American children to number among the exceptions.'
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Lancet

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