Police and social workers should make allowances for immigrants who slap or hit their children when investigating allegations of physical abuse, a high court judge has said.
Justice Pauffley â€“ who sits in the family division of the high court â€“ said that within â€œmany communities newly arrivedâ€ in the UK children were slapped for misbehaviour in a way which â€œat first excites the interest of child protection professionalsâ€.
But she said proper allowance had to be made for â€œwhat is, almost certainly a different cultural contextâ€.
Pauffley made her comments when ruling on a case in which an Indian man was alleged to have beaten his wife and seven-year-old son. The boy, who turns eight this month, complained that his father had physically assaulted him by hitting him on the back and leg with a belt. The father denied using a belt to strike the child but admitted he would slap or tap him to â€œkeep him disciplinedâ€.
The manâ€™s wife said she had seen him slap their son twice and there had been occasions when he was pushed and shouted at.
Pauffley concluded that, although the man had assaulted his wife, he had not physically abused his son. She told the court: â€œI do not believe there was punitively harsh treatment of [the boy] of the kind that would merit the term physical abuse.â€
â€œProper allowance must be made for what is, almost certainly, a different cultural context. Within many communities newly arrived in this country, children are slapped and hit for misbehaviour in a way which at first excites the interest of child protection professionals.â€
She added: â€œIn this instance … [the boy] did not appear to have suffered more than sadness and transient pain from what was done to him.â€
The boyâ€™s parents met and married in India a decade ago, travelling to England on a six-month visa. They decided not to return when the visas ran out and became â€œoverstayersâ€, the court heard.
The husband was arrested on suspicion of assaulting his wife but was released on bail and told to stay away from her and the child. In October 2014, he launched family court proceedings, asking asked for the boy to be returned to his care and orders were made aimed at preventing the woman taking the child abroad.
Pauffley concluded that â€“ on the balance of probabilities â€“ the man had subjected his wife to a â€œhorribly aggressive and violent assaultâ€ in October 2014. The judge said he attempted to strangle her and â€œviolently pushedâ€ her. The woman was extremely distressed, she added, and the boy â€œworried, even terrifiedâ€.
The judge said the man also sent a â€œseries of extremely abusive and sexually explicit messagesâ€ to his wife during the autumn of 2014 via the WhatsApp messaging service. Pauffley added that they revealed a â€œman with absolutely no respect for the mother of his childâ€.
In 2004 the Children Act made it illegal for parents in England and Wales to chastise children if blows led to bruising, swelling, cuts, grazes or scratches.