Smacking children was banned in Scotland in last night after the defence of ‘justifiable assault’ was removed from Scottish law.
It is the first country in the UK to outright ban the physical punishment of children, making it a criminal offence for parents to use even mild discipline, such as a smack on the hand or bottom.
Parents in England and Wales can face criminal charges if they leave a mark on their child and Wales is likely to follow the example set by Scotland, with an outright ban on smacking on the horizon. The Children (Abolition of Defence of Reasonable Punishment) (Wales) Bill is currently being debated in the Welsh Assembly.
The Scottish bill was lodged by Scottish Green Party MSP John Finnie, a former police officer, who said there was ‘irrefutable’ evidence that physical punishment damages children. The ban on all physical punishment in Scotland was backed by 84 votes to 29.
Liz Bayram, chief executive of the Professional Association for Childcare and Early Years (PACEY), said: ‘The Scottish Parliament has made an important landmark decision and all children in Scotland will be safer because of this.
‘UK law protects all adults from any form of physical punishment by another adult but does not afford children, toddlers and babies (our most vulnerable citizens) the same protection. We have long supported NSPCC and others in asking for the law to change and hope that England is not left behind in how it safeguards its children.’
Jonathan Broadbery, head of policy and external relations at National Day Nurseries Association (NDNA), added: 'Physical punishment is already prohibited in nurseries across Scotland and early learning and childcare providers are well versed in understanding why children demonstrate certain behaviours, using these in a positive way to support their development.
'This law shows the Scottish Parliament’s commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopting the same definition of physical punishment.
'A child’s earliest years are the most fundamental and important years of their lives, where they learn the skills that help them grow and develop into successful adults. Early learning and childcare providers, like nurseries, have a wealth of experience in working with families to build up a bank of long term strategies to support a child’s emotional literacy, self-regulation and positive behaviours.'
Opposition to the ban
The Be Reasonable campaign, which is concerned about the new law criminalising parents, had declared it is a ‘reckless policy’.
A spokesperson said: ‘It’s disappointing that MSPs have ignored overwhelming public opinion and the numerous unanswered questions about this reckless policy. Sadly, it will be decent families who will pay the price for all this virtue signalling.’
The campaign group believes the existing law, which allows ‘reasonable’ physical force to discipline a child, sufficiently protects children because it allows parents simply to use ‘an occasional tap on the hand or smack on the bottom’.
Concerns have also been raised about the costs of introducing the new law and the number of social workers needed to implement it.
Jamie Gillies, of the Be Reasonable campaign, said: ‘Considering that social workers will be one of the main groups tasked with implementing a smacking ban, it is simply unacceptable to proceed without any reliable estimates as to the number of additional cases arising, or whether resources will have to be diverted from other frontline services. Social workers deserve to know how this law will affect them.’
Physical punishment in schools and other education settings is banned in all parts of the UK.