Ministers defy charities to uphold parents' right to smack(The on-line version has a different title.) The article goes on:
As can be gleaned from the prevalence of the word smack in the article (and more generally in the national debate on the topic), this is the normal BrE way to refer to striking a child as a disciplinary measure. As the OED defines smack:
The government yesterday reasserted parents' right to smack their children despite overwhelming opposition from charities.
Kevin Brennan, the children's minister, said there was no reason to change the law introduced three years ago permitting smacking if it does not leave visible bruising, scratches or reddening of the skin.
After a review of the legislation, he told MPs: "Smacking is becoming a less commonly used form of discipline. While many parents say they will not smack, a majority say smacking should not be banned outright."
5. a. To strike (a person, part of the body, etc.) with the open hand or with something having a flat surface; to slap. Also spec. to chastise (a child) in this manner and fig.Smack is generally not used in this way in AmE, as can be seen from the American Heritage Dictionary definition:
v.tr.Of course, the final sense there could be used to describe hitting children with an open hand, but it's just not used that way as routinely in AmE as it is in BrE. In BrE, the Guardian headline seems clear. In AmE, I might misunderstand it as 'parents' right to kiss noisily' or 'parents' right to heroin.' (Smack = 'heroin' is originally AmE slang.)
1. To press together and open (the lips) quickly and noisily, as in eating or tasting.
2. To kiss noisily.
3. To strike sharply and with a loud noise.
In AmE, one speaks more naturally of spanking children, but of course spank≠smack, since spank (at least in AmE) specifies that it is the bottom that is hit (typically with an open hand, but possibly with a paddle or other instrument), whereas smacking doesn't (although it may be the case that most--or at least the most prototypical--child-smacking is on bottoms). I asked Better Half whether he'd usually refer to bottom-smacking as spanking or smacking, and he felt that he'd tend to use smack to talk about hitting children because spank (to his BrE ear) has sexual overtones. (The first thing he said upon hearing spank was spank the monkey. What a naughty boy.) The OED lists spank as 'dialectal or colloquial', and does not specify that it has to be on the bottom:
This UK site has spank as 'slang', but it is not slang in AmE--and not sexual unless clearly used in a sexual context.
Searching for spank on the Guardian website, I find that it doesn't occur in the current articles on the 'smacking debate' but that it does occur in articles on sport, music (due to a hiphop group called Spank Rock) and sex. So, there's little evidence that the AmE usage of spank for child-bottom-hitting is making its way into BrE. But since the OED entries have not been updated since 1989, it'll be interesting to see if they pick up on any changes in their next updates.