GENEVA (Oct. 4) - Britain should repeal a 142-year-old law giving parents the right to spank their children because it violates an international treaty, a United Nations committee said Friday.
The U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child, which oversees a 1989 accord protecting youngsters, said it welcomed British legislation abolishing corporal punishment in schools.
But it also called for the repeal of an 1860 law that allows parents to use ''reasonable chastisement'' to punish their children.
In London, Britain's Home Office said the government was ''absolutely opposed to violence and abuse against children.''
Countries that have ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child are supposed to submit regular reports to the committee showing what they are doing to implement the treaty. The committee, made up of 10 independent experts, commented after considering Britain's report, the second the country has submitted since 1995.
The committee said it ''deeply regrets that (Britain) persists in retaining the defense of 'reasonable chastisement' and has taken no significant action toward prohibiting all corporal punishment of children in the family.'' The committee had asked Britain to overturn the law in 1995.
Government proposals to limit - but not abolish - the provision do not comply with the 1989 convention and are a ''serious violation of the dignity of the child,'' the committee said.
''Moreover, they suggest that some forms of corporal punishment are acceptable and therefore undermine educational measures to promote positive and non-violent discipline.''
Committee Chairman Jacob Doek of the Netherlands told reporters the panel accepts ''positive,'' nonviolent discipline of children.
''We're not saying children shouldn't be disciplined,'' he said. ''But it's not necessary to hit them over the head or kick them.''
The Home Office denied the law gave a green light to violence against children.
''The law only allows what is reasonable in terms of the physical punishment of children and does not permit child abuse,'' it said in a statement. ''We recognize that parenting can be difficult, but we must avoid heavy-handed intrusion into family life.''
Former President Clinton's administration signed the convention but never submitted it for Senate ratification because a number of groups argued it infringed on the rights of parents.
The United States is one of only two countries - the other is Somalia - that has not ratified the treaty.