Cage-fighting Children. Genuine safeguarding issue or moral panic?

I don't like fighting. I never watch adults box or wrestle. I understand that some people value the skill of these 'sports', but they don't appeal to me. They always seem a bit too close to real, uncontrollable rage for comfort.

The idea of children fighting feels worse. Children are soft, and sweet; growing and learning. They will experience more than enough pain, accrued accidentally, as they develop their skills to evaluate risk in the real world. Why would any adult encourage them to inflict pain on each other deliberately?

But some adults do like fighting as sport. Boxing, wrestling, martial arts etc. are respected (and in some cases highly remunerated) professions for those who excel. If you're going to aspire to become a professional fighter one day, I suppose you have to start young. And adults who enjoy your sport may well watch and enjoy your accomplishments. Is competitive boxing, at eight years old, or mixed martial arts at the same age very different from gymnastics, say, or ballet, which some experts worry about because of the pressures they appear to put on developing bodies? What is the difference (in terms of physical and emotional damage) between an eight year old taking a smack in the face in the ring, or a child of the same age having a nasty fall from their horse at the local Gymkhana, both events taking place before a cheering crowd? I'm not into ponies, or ballet, or gymnastics either so I have no benchmark against which to assess the reasonableness of parents allowing or expecting their children to participate or compete in these events. I just know that it's not what I like; it's not what I'd let my children do.

But no one – yet – has let me run the country according to my whims, beliefs and prejudices. Instead, we have child performance laws to help us understand and manage what children should or shouldn't be allowed to do.

If you're feeling nerdy, here's that legislation: The Children & Young Persons Act 1963 and the Children (Performances) Regulations 1968

"Child performance" includes paid / professional sporting activity. If the children in the "cage fight" (the nature of the bout is disputed, and I don't know enough about martial arts to judge) were being paid, or someone was receiving payment on account of their participation (I understand at the audience had paid to watch) they had to be licensed to be involved. If the "performance" is taking place in a licensed premises or registered club (which I understand it was) a licence was required. If they weren't licensed, that was a breach of the law, and since the licensing requirement is in place to safeguard children's wellbeing, that breach would be a safeguarding issue. Even if the children weren't being paid or there was no payment being made on account of their involvement, there are still circumstances in which a licence would be required: for example, if they appear in a "performance" more than five times in a six month period. In making licensing decisions a local authority has to be satisfied that the activity is safe for the child and that it takes place in a venue that the local authority has approved. The local authority needs to know if the performance will be filmed for broadcast (which raises some interesting questions about YouTube as a broadcast medium). When applying for a licence to cover sporting activity, parents have to make a declaration that the child is medically fit to participate. Records have to be kept of any injuries the child sustains while participating in the "performance".

I feel uncomfortable about judging other parents' decisions about their children, based on some fairly uninformed prejudices I have about fighting. But I feel professionally confident to say that the activity the children were involved in should have been considered by the local authority in the light of child performance regulations before it took place. If the local authority had issued a licence or confirmed that one was not required in these circumstances, then this is just another media-fuelled (and probably class-based) moral panic. If this sporting event and others like it hasn't yet been evaluated on safeguarding grounds, it should be.


6 thoughts on “Cage-fighting Children. Genuine safeguarding issue or moral panic?

  1. It’s interesting to see the phrase "it’s not what I’d let my children do"…especially as it refers to a decision that they may wish to make, as opposed to letting them fight in cage as alcoholised adults cheer them along.I accept fighting sports, I even enjoy watching them, and I get a little frustrated at the manner in which people disapprove of them. Not liking them, fine, we all have our preferences, but to judge and find guilty – I am not sure why that is okay.A Scottish boxer called Jimmy Murray died in the ring 16 years ago – and whilst of course this fuels the fire of those who would see the sport banned, I remember the words of his father afterwards. He said that Drew Docherty, the man who was responsible for the death of his son as his victorious opponent would always be welcome in his home, because he could not blame him on any level for the killing of his son.He said this about the man who, in effect, beat his son to death.Why? Because boxing had pulled his son from the gutter, had kept him out of prison and off drugs, and he loved doing it. He knew that Drew Docherty had no intent to kill his son, and he knew his son was there my choice.A incredible sentiment from a grizzled, bereaved Glaswegian – it made me cry to hear it – and to me, it is a very convincing argument for allowing people to make their own decisions in life.I have heard enough stats this week to know that there are far more dangerous sports than boxing/fighting…it is not what I would choose for my son (or daughter!), but if they came to me and wanted to do it, and they could demonstrate that they understood what it was they were asking for…Would it be right for me to stop them? I don’t think so.But a pack of drinking adults, baying as two small children fight each other in a cage without headgear? That don’t impress me much.

  2. Hmm. May need to edit slightly for clarity. The "it’s not what I like; it’s not what I’d let my children do" was referring specifically to the so-called ‘cage fighting’. I was comparing with those other activities about which I know equally nothing and about which there are various claims for risk, as a way of airing (and owning up to) the way I (and I expect most of us) use a range of personal experience, media (mis)information and ignorance / prejudice on which to base these decisions. Mat’s point overlaps with my point, which is, regardless of what I personally may feel about boxing (or any fighting sport) there may be many people who consider it a perfectly reasonable pursuit, including for children, and a knee-jerk reaction from a position of ignorance doesn’t help clarify things. However, for all these activities, if undertaken in front of a fee-paying audience the child performance regs apply, so they would be objectively assessed for the safety and well-being of the children.(PS: My own children are involved in a variety of activities, but none of the ones listed above, which is why those are the ones I am ignorant of, in terms of likely harm, and hence the ones that I referenced).

  3. Worth saying that my children’s independent decision-making is developing, and helping them to understand and manage risk is part of how I hope I’m helping them to attain independence safely, but I have no qualms as a mum about stating clearly that there are some things I would and some things I wouldn’t let my children do. Their safety and happiness is my responsibility. I take it seriously. :-))

  4. I can see that I perhaps misunderstood that comment. It read slightly differently to me.And of course, there are things that I would not let my children do, but, tbh, I am struggling to think of any kind of sporting activity/hobby that I would stop them doing, as long as I could see that it was well organised and that all reasonable steps to ensure their safety had been taken.This parenting stuff. Not easy, is it?

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