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Charities welcome member’s bill on 'smacking ban'

John Finnie - Scottish Parliament

Charities welcome member’s bill on 'smacking ban'

Children’s charities have welcomed a new bill which will remove young people from exemptions on assault.

A member’s bill from Scottish Green John Finnie proposes removing the defence of ‘justifiable assault’ from the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003. This defence allows parents to claim in court that injuries from physical punishment cannot be described as assault.

The proposal from Finnie was backed by 31 MSPs from all parties, as well as 75 per cent of respondents to a consultation.

The Scottish Government has indicated it will support the bill, and it is supported by Barnardos, NSPCC, the Church of Scotland and others.

Mary Glasgow, interim Chief Executive of Scottish charity Children 1st, said the bill reflected scientific evidence that physical punishment harms children in the long term.

“We warmly welcome the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill which will amend the archaic law that gives children, the smallest, most vulnerable members of our society, less protection from physical harm than anybody else,” she said.

Bruce Adamson, Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, said the bill was “long overdue”.

“Scotland is one of the last countries in Europe to amend its law to protect children, and I welcome the fact that we now have broad political support for the change,” he said.

“Removing the defence of ‘justifiable assault’ will not create a new criminal offence; most forms of physical assault against children are already against the law. This change will simply ensure that children in Scotland enjoy the same protections from violent punishment as adults.”

Professor Steve Turner, officer for Scotland for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said: “I strongly believe it not acceptable to hit a child. Physical punishment can teach a child that physical violence is part of a normal healthy lifestyle. 

“It can increase the likelihood of that child going on to be aggressive in later life themselves, leading to a vicious cycle of physical violence, bred through generations. Physical punishment is also linked to an increase in a child’s later risk for anxiety, depression and problems with self-esteem.

“As a children’s doctor, there is nothing I want more than for children to be protected, as adults currently are, from assault.”

Finnie, a former police officer, said: “I look forward to parliament examining the bill and stand ready to make the case that providing equal protection for children and ending justifiable assault will show that Scotland really is the best place in the world to grow up."

Previous attempts to introduce a smacking ban in Scotland have met with fierce opposition, including from the Catholic Church.

Earlier this year Anthony Horan, director of the Catholic Parliamentary Office, said: “It is not the role of the state to interfere in how parents go about building a strong relationship with their children, except in the most exceptional circumstances.”

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