WembleyWonderful Tips #52: Children and the Law in the UK

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Now that the stress of the elections is behind us, no need to be “frivolous to forget” any more – let’s talk about serious subject!

Child protection law is quite different in the UK and in France, sometimes to an astonishing degree for French people, so I thought it would be useful to summarise key differences.

1/ No more fessée! Smacking a child in the UK is actually illegal , should it be from parents, teachers or carers. Worse comes to worse, you could be charged with a criminal offence. The law gives an exception – when the smacking amounts to “reasonable punishment” – but it is very vague what “reasonable” means; and the English seem far less tolerant to physical punishment that the French. If there is any doubt you may have hurt your child, you are very likely to be contacted by social services – should it be because he complained at school about being smacked; or because he hurt himself pulling a shoe cupboard over himself and you had to rush him to hospital the get his lip stitched-up (I am not making this up, the WembleyWonderful family life is full of excitement!). So in conclusion: shout as much as you want (no no I never do it) but do not smack!

2 / Mind your (and your children’s’) pictures! “Sexting” is an offence . Sexting means sending indecent images of yourself or others; or sending sexually explicit messages. Indecent pictures include: naked pictures, topless pictures of a girl, pictures of genitals, sex acts including masturbation, etc… In the UK, it is an offence to make, distribute, possess or show any indecent images of anyone aged under 18, even if the content was created with the consent of that young person. The police must, by law, record all sexting incidents on their crime system.

3/ Bullying in itself is not considered as a crime, but some aspects of it can be . I did publish a detailed article on bullying a while ago, which you can find here. In summary, some elements of the bullying could be considered as crime and therefore should be reported to the police. This is the case of 1/acts of discrimination (against age, race, religion, sex, sexual orientation), which fall under the Equality Act 2010; of 2/ some cyberbullying activities (grossly indecent or offensive messages, threats, false information), which fall under the Malicious Communications Act 1988; and of 3/hate crimes (racist, homophobic, transphobic or related to religion, beliefs, disability, gender identity). Importantly, if the bullying is extremely serious and the bully is over the age of ten, the bully could be prosecuted for a criminal offence, for example, assault or harassment; below the age of 10 the parents could be held responsible for the offence.

4/ Educate your children early! They will have legal responsibility when they are 10. The age of criminal responsibility in England and Wales is 10 years old. This means that children under 10 can’t be arrested or charged with a crime – their crimes will appear on the parents’ child record; but children 10 or older can.

Expatriation is so much joy! But better to be informed…

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