Historically, corporal punishment has been a hot button topic for parents and child psychologists alike. Many of us remember getting a slap or a smack when refusing to comply, but does it have any psychologically long-lasting effects on us?
Research suggests that a light smack here or there doesn’t leave any long-term permanent physical or emotional harm to the child. Although, other parenting experts tend to disagree, referencing that the physical punishment of children can lead to negative outcomes such as the normalisation of family violence and the promotion of antisocial behaviour.
No matter your opinion on the debate, there is one outstanding question: are there any legal implications for corporal punishment in Australia?
In short, the answer is no. However, there are conditions to these laws that could deem your application of physical punishment as unlawful, and you could face conviction on a criminal offence if found guilty.
Corporal Punishment Meaning
Corporal punishment, also known as physical punishment, is a corrective behavioural measure involving the use of force on a child to cause them pain or discomfort.
In simple terms, you use corporal punishment when you’re physically disciplining your child.
According to Cassie White, “69 per cent of Australian parents still smack their kids today”. Nonetheless, there is a debate unfolding on whether parental corporal punishment is a form of child abuse with calls to change the current law.
Examples of Corporal Punishment
Corporal punishment typically includes the following acts of force that causes physical pain or discomfort. This includes:
- Consuming substances to inflict pain or discomfort (for example, washing a child’s mouth with soap or eating chilli)
- Forcing the child to sit or stand in certain positions for a length of time (for example, making your child stand and face the corner during a time out)
The corporal punishment of children also extends to parents who use hard objects when disciplining children, including belts, sticks or canes.
Is Smacking Your Child Illegal in Australia?
Physical punishment as a form of discipline is illegal in 34 countries, including New Zealand, Germany and Spain. However, corporal punishment remains lawful in Australia.
Each Australian State and Territory Law have differing interpretations of the parent’s lawful correction on their child’s behaviour through force.
- Australian Capital Territory: There is no explicit law addressing parental corporal punishment, although it states that reasonable punishment is acceptable.
- New South Wales: Under Section 61AA of the Crimes Act 1900, parents can use reasonable physical force when disciplining their children.
- Northern Territory: Under Section 11 & 27 of the Criminal Code Act 1983, it is lawful for parents to discipline with force unless it is unnecessary and causes serious harm.
- Queensland: Section 280 of the Criminal Code Act 9 1899 states that parents and schoolteachers can apply corporal punishment if the force is reasonable.
- South Australia: Section 20 of the Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 states that physical contact between people that would be considered acceptable within the community is lawful. This can be interpreted as parents using reasonable force to discipline their children.
- Tasmania: Section 50 of the Criminal Code Act 1924 states that if the circumstances permit, reasonable use of force in the physical discipline of children is lawful.
- Victoria: There is no explicit law that addresses a parent’s use of corporal punishment. However, there is a common law defence.
- Western Australia: Under Section 257 of the Criminal Code Act 1913, parent’s can physically discipline their children if reasonable force is applied.
In each set of State and Territory Criminal Law, a child is defined as someone who is under the age of 18.
Therefore, corporal punishment can be deemed appropriate across all Australian States and Territories. An essential condition to this is that physical force is reasonable.
What is Deemed Reasonable When it Comes to Smacking a Child?
According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, corporal punishment is lawful as long as it is for the purpose of correction or discipline and is reasonable. NSW is the only state that clarifies what ‘reasonable force’ means within its criminal law framework.
The Section 61AA NSW Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) says that the application of physical force is unreasonable if:
“the force is applied to any part of the head or neck of a child. Or to any other part of the body of a child in such a way as to be likely to cause harm to a child that lasts for more than a short period.”
In these circumstances, unreasonable corporal punishment may be classified as physical abuse and therefore lead to intervention by police and/or child protection authorities.
Can You Smack Someone Else’s Child?
Under Australian law’s guidance, the only other person who can inflict corporal punishment on a child is someone acting in a parent role.
A person acting as a parent includes:
- De-facto partners to the parent of the child
- Relatives (either by blood or marriage) to the parent of the child
- Someone who the parent has entrusted the care and management of the child (such as guardians)
There is a different set of laws that Australian schools must adhere to when it comes to physical violence as a disciplinary measure.
Corporal Punishment in Schools Australia
Child Care & Early Education Centres
The introduction of the Education and Care Services National Law across all States and Territories in 2011 has triggered the prohibition of corporal punishment in early childhood education centres and family day care settings
The law extends explicitly to anyone who are:
- Nominated supervisors
- Staff members
- Service Providers
In particular, Section 122 of Queensland’s Child Protection Act 1999 states that unlawful behavioural measures include corporal punishment and extends to acts that cause emotional harm. This involves emotional punishment that humiliates, frightens, or threatens a child.
Primary and Secondary Schools
Under multiple State and Territory Education Acts, corporal punishment in schools is prohibited in ACT, NSW, NT, SA, TAS, VIC and WA. According to the Children (Education and Care Services National Law Application) Act 2010, any providers, supervisors, staff members or volunteers are prohibited from inflicting corporal punishment. If found guilty, you can face a maximum penalty of $10,000 for the unreasonable use of force when disciplining.
However, while the QLD Education (General Provisions) Act 2006 bans corporal punishment in government schools, there is no provision for physical punishment in non-government schools. Queensland’s Criminal Code Act 1899 includes schoolteachers as someone who can inflict corporal punishment on children.
If you have found yourself charged with breaching Australia’s criminal law, contact LY Lawyers for expert legal advice. All first consultations with our experienced and skilled criminal law team are free, including calls to our 24/7 legal hotline on 1300 595 299.
If you suspect a child is a victim of abuse call the Child Wise National Child Abuse Helpline at 1-800-991-099.