Ross Clark

Banned Wagon | 12 October 2002

The UN's bullying of Britain over smacking has persuaded Ross Clark that his column must now tackle international puritanism

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So, the United Nations weapons inspectors are ready to go in, and this time they are not going to be put off their scent by feeble excuses. They will not be satisfied until every single weapon has been destroyed. Every slipper, every cane, every outstretched bare hand must go: the UN committee on the rights of the child has ruled Mr Blair's government to be an international pariah because it has failed to ban the smacking of children. 'We are talking about alternative forms of disciplining children because we are not saying children should not be disciplined,' the committee chairman, Jacob Doek, told reporters last week. 'But is it necessary to hit them over the head or kick them in the butt?'

Mr Doek appears not to know that those two particular activities are already banned in British homes, and have been since Victorian times, when the law allowing 'reasonable chastisement' was drafted. While that definition allows smacking, it does not and never has allowed British parents to take running kicks at their children's backsides. But, more to the point, does Britain really need to take lessons in how to treat children from a committee whose members include Brazil, Thailand and Saudi Arabia? In Brazil, child murders by criminal gangs are rife. Thailand is a recognised destination for sex tourists wanting to procure child prostitutes. And as for Saudi Arabia, there is perhaps a perverse logic in its - admittedly rarely used - provisions for chopping the hands off miscreant children: at least the little buggers won't be able to smack their own children when they grow up.

If it seems a strange order of priorities to raise the smacking of British children at a time when the rest of the world is concerned with Saddam's chemical and biological weapons, it is well within the character of the United Nations. Its 'non-violent' ethos lends itself rather better to chastising civilised nations than to dealing with rogue ones. Anyone looking forward to a strongly worded resolution against Saddam ought first to study the philosophy that underpins the UN and appreciate that it is less a world parliament than a society for the advancement of progressive ideology.

Here is a nugget from the UN's promotional blurb: 'Non-violence is the philosophical awareness that each human being, including oneself, is significant, valuable and powerful. It is a way to construct harmony between human beings, creating self-esteem and a profound respect for others. In this way violence can be seen as a disruption of that harmony.'

That is all very well; few would deny that the world would be a better place if we were all nice to each other. The trouble is that such a philosophy doesn't make any provision for dealing with people who don't want to play ball. It is perhaps not surprising, if you go to Baghdad full of warm feelings for Saddam, that you should come away - as the UN chief weapons inspector Hans Blix did during a previous incarnation as head of the International Atomic Agency - taking the Iraqi leader at his word when he tells you that the banks of particle accelerators before you are not being used to develop nuclear weapons.

The UN's approach to children's rights is just as blinkered. Its report castigated Britain for having an age of criminal responsibility as low as ten (eight in Scotland) and for the large number of youths in detention centres. Yet the UN, as is the prerogative of an international agency that has no youths of its own to keep under control, provided no suggestions whatsoever as to how our government might care to deal with lawless adolescents such as Dwaine Williams, jailed last week for a 'car-jacking' murder in south London following a string of convictions stretching back to his childhood. Williams had not been held in custody for any of his previous offences, which would no doubt have met with the UN's approval

I looked to Unesco, the UN's educational arm, for advice on how to approach the disciplining of children. What I found was enough to make even zealots at the old Inner London Education Authority cringe. The organisation offers a series of pedagogical games to aid the non-violent education of children and turn them into such wonderfully warm and loving grown-ups that they won't even want to amass large nuclear arsenals. For example, there is one called 'Fly, fly, fly' in which two teams have to get on their hands and knees on the floor and take it in turns to keep a feather in the air by blowing on it. The purpose of the game, reads the bumf, is 'to practise solidarity and responsibility in a very gay atmosphere'.

For nearly three years now I have been drawing attention to the more miserable output of our legislators in my Banned wagon column. The government has not lost its urge to prohibit, and from time to time it will still be held to account. But it is time to move on. From next week, Banned wagon will be embracing globalisation, and will concentrate on the puritanism of international do-gooders: the agencies, summit-goers and elder statesmen who like to dictate to the world from on high. It will be looking out for the kind of humbug demonstrated by countries - our own included - which encourage their own fishing industries in the pursuit of collapsing cod stocks, then clamber up to the global high ground to denounce the immorality of other countries' whaling industries.

At the risk of offending our distinguished political editor, Peter Oborne, Banned wagon will be redirecting its fire, too, to the 'sustainability' lobby, which cries for the plight of the world's poor when in fact it stands for the freezing-out of African farmers from Western markets. To its credit, the United Nations has made a point of monitoring the progress, or rather lack of progress, in free trade between the First and Third Worlds. The results make disgraceful reading for those Western leaders who made their way to the recent Johannesburg summit to pontificate about global warming while conveniently skipping the debate on free trade. Between 1996 and 2000, the proportion of goods that were exported from the Third World to the First World without incurring tariffs fell from 77 to 66 per cent. And that is before you even take into account the damage inflicted on Third World producers by agricultural subsidies in the West.

For rather too long international politics has been conducted in an atmosphere of increasing smugness. Remote agencies such as Unesco have been able to pursue an agenda unchallenged, in a fashion which makes even the European Commission look transparent. Politicians such as Willy Brandt and Jimmy Carter, who were unceremoniously booted out of office in democratic countries, have seen their pronouncements on the state of the world treated as if they were on stone tablets discovered by Moses. Brigitte Bardots and Bianca Jaggers have been treated like great sages rather than the washed-up stars that they are. It is time that the luvvies of the global stage were brought to account.