Scotland politics

MSPs hear plans to ban smacking 'criminalises parents'

Smack Image copyright Getty Images

A ban on smacking children would "criminalise" parents, MSPs have been told.

The Holyrood committee also heard that the physical punishment of children had no place "in a civilised culture".

It was taking evidence on the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill.

The bill would remove the defence of "justifiable assault" in Scots law, which allows parents to use physical punishment on children.

A public consultation on the issue in 2017 received more than 650 responses, with about 75% being in favour of the ban.

MSPs heard evidence first from a panel of four, including Dr Stuart Waiton, of Abertay University's School of Social and Health Sciences.

He told the committee the bill "criminalises parents".

Image copyright Scottish Parliament
Image caption Dr Stuart Waiton, of Abertay University, does not agree with plans for legislation to ban smacking

He argued that the concept of children having rights was "nonsense", adding: "Children don't have the same framework of rights as adults, they have protections."

Asked by Alex Cole-Hamilton MSP if he also supports physical punishment of women, he said "adults and children are very different".

He said MSPs were "living on another planet" if they thought smacking was "a form of violence that harms them".

What is the law in the rest of the UK?

  • There are no bans on smacking in England, Wales and Northern Ireland, where parents are currently allowed to use "reasonable chastisement".
  • However, they can face criminal charges if they hit a child so hard that it leaves a mark, or causes bruising, swelling, cuts, grazes or scratches.
  • The Welsh Government is planning to change the law - removing a defence in the law on assault - in the next year.

Dr Waiton said a smacking ban could mean cases of children being "seriously abused and battered might get lost in a sea of complaints by caring professionals who are now reporting every smacking incident"

He expressed concern that if the government was to be "logically consistent" then it would eventually end up banning parents from grounding their children too, because the smacking ban bill could lead to problems around "almost any form of discipline whatsoever".

Dr Waiton added: "I would suggest you think again before making this a criminal offence."

Image copyright Scottish Parliament
Image caption Professor Jane Callaghan said there was no place for smacking in "civilised culture"

Professor Jane Callaghan, director of Stirling University's centre for Child Wellbeing and Protection, disagreed with Dr Waiton. She confirmed she was in favour of the ban on smacking, which "doesn't have a place in a civilised culture".

She said told the committee that "corporal punishment has no positive consequences and has plenty of negative ones".

'Clear message'

One concern, she said, was that parents who were likely to use smacking were also likely to "lose control".

She added that the legislation would send the right message to children about physical violence.

"Giving a clear message that it is never acceptable is very important," she said.

The committee also heard from Diego Quiroz, of the Scottish Human Rights Commission, and Dr Anja Heilmann, author of the "Equally Protected?" report. Both supported the ban.

In a second panel, MSPs heard from more witnesses who supported changing the law.

Dr Louise Hill, from the Centre for Excellence for Looked After Children at Strathclyde University said it was an "anomaly" in the legislation that smacking was still acceptable. She said there were a lot of "great endeavours" and work that had been done in Scotland to help children, like the baby box.

Amy-Beth Mia and Cheryl-Ann Cruickshank from Who Cares? Scotland, and Clare Simpson, from Parenting Across Scotland, also gave evidence.

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