By Reuters, 03/26/98

British parliament votes to ban beating of pupils who misbehave

LONDON - Britain's Parliament voted overwhelmingly yesterday to ban corporal punishment in all schools, ending a centuries-old practice abhorred by liberal critics who said beating children scarred minds as well as bodies.

In a free vote on an amendment to a government education bill, legislators approved the ban by 211 votes to 15.

Although the previous Conservative government outlawed corporal punishment in state schools in 1986, it allowed teachers in Britain's estimated 200 fee-paying schools to beat misbehaving children.

Liberal Democrat legislator Don Foster, who proposed the amendment, said the ban was ''unfinished business'' and pointed out that no other country in Europe allowed corporal punishment of children.

But some said the move was a betrayal of parental rights.

Liz Atkins of the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children wholeheartedly welcomed the vote, saying caning was outmoded.

''In society as a whole, any kind of physical punishment - whether be it in school or in the family - is becoming unacceptable,'' she said. ''We view this (ban) as an overdue move. After all, it was way back in the 1980s when corporal punishment was abolished in state schools and there has been no justification for it to continue in private schools.''

Corporal punishment - responsible for the phrase ''six of the best'' (strokes of the cane) - has for centuries been an integral part of the upbringing of many children, particularly boys.

Long after former colonial outposts such as South Africa abolished corporal punishment, senior boys at some British schools still had the right to beat younger pupils.

The Independent Schools Council (ISC), which represents 1,300 schools and covers 80 percent of children attending private schools in Britain, said its members had already stopped caning pupils.

''Many schools concluded, long before any form of legal ban was contemplated, that corporal punishment impeded good education,'' ISC chairman Ian Beer said.

Peter Luff, a Conservative member of parliament who voted against the ban, said the decision deprived parents of a say in how they wanted their children to be raised.

''I think this is a travesty of parental rights. What I do fear is that the next step will be to ban parents from disciplining their children and that is the slippery slope we are on,'' he said.

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