Mother knows best. So goes the old saying. It's not always true. Mum certainly didn't know best when she and dad disciplined 10-year-old Chu Tai-fuk by locking him in a suitcase for almost two hours. The boy died and the parents went to jail. The tragedy has ignited once again an old debate. Should parents be allowed to spank their children? When is it right to use corporal punishment? How much physical chastisement is suitable? Where does society now draw the line between a mild slap on the bottom and cruelty to children? Above all, should parents be allowed to hit their children at all, for any reason? Surveys show half of Hongkongers are opposed to laws banning their rights to bring up their children as they see best. They believe that as parents they are better able to judge what their child needs than a social worker or a child psychologist. It's a question that splits society. There is logic and reason on both sides. Everyone agrees that the first and major issue should be the best interest of the child. How can this be guaranteed? It's interesting to reflect that nobody can drive a car in Hong Kong without being tested and proving they are capable. An electrician is not allowed to operate without passing exams. You've got to study for about 20 years before you are allowed to be a teacher. But anyone can breed. Even those least suited to be parents can have children. Many do so. Then they are left to bring up their offspring with no lessons in how to love, nurture or care for them. Ideas of how best to raise children differ widely. It's one of those areas in which everyone believes they are an expert. Do you spoil the child if you spare the rod? I believe disciplining children is often an expression of love. People want their children to be well behaved, polite and to grow up as decent human beings. The best way of doing this is by setting good examples. However, sometimes a wayward child needs a more pointed lesson in what is the proper way to behave and what will not be tolerated. I was seldom spanked as a child at home, but at school my teachers certainly more than made up for any lack of corporal punishment at home. Did being beaten with a leather strap or a wooden cane do any good? Maybe. It certainly made me more careful about being caught in minor wrongdoings. Corporal punishment in schools in Hong Kong has been banned for 15 years. I don't think this is necessarily a good thing; surely teachers need to be effectively in charge of their classrooms. It's the question of punishment at home by parents that is a matter of anguish. Everyone seems to be anxious to get in on the act laying down laws and opinions about how to bring up other people's children. Even political parties are now involved. A recent detailed survey showed that two-thirds of people who disciplined their children physically hit them with their bare hands. But is this the first step on the road to more severe treatment? The very experienced and respected Priscilla Lui Tsang Sun-kai, director of Against Child Abuse, contends child-abuse cases begin with corporal punishment. She wants to see corporal punishment in the home banned. That's a feeling shared by some academics and legislators. I don't agree, largely because it would be a law totally impossible to enforce and would be resented by many decent people who believe they know how to bring up their children without interference. How is a social worker or policeman to know what is happening inside a home? Having said that there must be zero tolerance for cruelty or excessive corporal punishment. The problem is where to draw the line. There are adequate punishments for cruelty under present laws; the problem is who judges what is excessive and how do the authorities find out if a child is being mistreated? Cora Wong Mei-fung, spokeswoman of the Federation of Parent-Teacher Associations of the Northern District, points out that in future a smack on the hand may be called child abuse. 'Chinese tradition has a saying that beating is a way to train good children,' she adds. 'It is difficult not to have some corporal punishment.' Edward Chan Ko-ling of the Department of Social Work and Social Administration at the University of Hong Kong disagrees. 'Parents tend to 'quick fix' children's behavioural and study problems by using corporal punishment which can turn into abuse,' Dr Chan contends. 'But violence breeds violence. To stop this vicious circle, we must stop corporal punishment.'