Scottish Government promises to make smacking ban law in Scotland
Nicola Sturgeon and children at North Edinburgh Childcare - Image credit: First Minister of Scotland's Flickr
Smacking of children is to be banned in Scotland, after the Scottish Government committed to ensuring a bill outlawing the physical punishment of children becomes law.
The move comes after Green MSP John Finnie launched a member’s bill before the summer proposing children be given the same legal protection from assault as adults.
The bill put forward by Finnie, a former policeman and the Greens’ justice spokesperson, would removing the current defence of “justifiable assault”, which currently protects parents from prosecution for smacking, from Scots law.
The commitment by the Scottish Government marks a change from its position in April when it said it did not intend to bring forward legislation that criminalise parents “for lightly smacking their children”.
It is also stronger than the commitment that First Minister Nicola Sturgeon made as she launched the programme for government last month, which was simply that her party would not oppose the bill.
A Scottish Government spokesperson said: "Mr Finnie's proposals are not a Scottish Government bill. However, we will ensure the proposals become law.
"We believe physical punishment can have negative effects on children which can last long after the physical pain has died away.
“We support positive parenting through, for example, funding for family support services."
Scotland will become the first part of the UK to introduce an outright ban on the physical punishment of children when the bill, which also has the support of Labour and the Lib Dems, becomes law.
The Scottish Government commitment has been welcomed by the Scottish Greens, Lib Dems and children’s charities.
John Finnie said: “It is especially welcome that the Scottish Government has reiterated its support for my bill because there is clear evidence that the use of physical punishment is detrimental to children’s long term health and wellbeing.
“Giving children equal protection against assault will send a clear message to all of us about how we treat each other and underpin Scotland’s efforts to reduce violence.”
A spokesperson for Barnardo’s Scotland, Children 1st and NSPCC Scotland said: “We are delighted that the Scottish Government has given such a clear commitment to ensuring children have equal protection from violence in Scots Law.
“Repeated international reviews of evidence, including Equally Protected? which we jointly published in 2015, show beyond all doubt that physical punishment doesn’t work and can be harmful to children.”
They added that Finnie’s bill would not create a new criminal offence, but simply remove the defence of justifiable assault, “which is out of step with the majority of parents’ practice, children’s rights and most other countries in Europe”.
They also said it would “bring clarity for families while enabling parents to continue to make their own decisions about how best to raise their children.”
Lib Dem MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton said: "Scottish Liberal Democrats have regularly demanded the so-called "justifiable assault" of children be brought to an end.
It is a source of national shame that this defence still exists and it is welcome that SNP ministers will now get with the times and abolish it.”
But campaigners against the ban, Be Reasonable Scotland, warned that it was an intrusion on family life and would overload social services.
In a statement, they said: “Criminalising parents for smacking their own children is a gross intrusion on family life by politicians who are totally out of touch with real people.
“It will overload police and social workers, making it even harder for them to find and help children who are being abused.
“It’s one thing to have an opinion about smacking. It’s another to criminalise those who parent differently from you.”