By Joel Renouf.
Scotland has become the first UK country to make it a criminal offence for parents to smack their children. The ban, which gives children the same rights as adults when it comes to force, was voted in overwhelmingly by the Scottish Parliament with 84 votes for the motion to 29 against it. The move was introduced by Scottish Greens MSP and former police officer John Finnie, won support from SNP, Labour and Lib Dems as well as his own party and many children’s charities. Mr Finnie said smacking teaches children that “might is right”, and that the ban would “send a strong message that violence is never acceptable in any setting”.
The bill was opposed by the Scottish Conservatives who claimed that the legislations risks criminalising “good parents” for using “reasonable chastisement”. However, the Scottish Governments children’s minister Maree Todd insisted that loving parents would not be criminalised.
The first country in the world to make smacking illegal was Sweden back in 1979, which banned violence of any kind against children in the home – Scotland has become the 58 country to do so. Previously in Scottish law, all physical attacks on adults can be treated as assault, however children did not have the same protection. This is because a person accused of assaulting a child can claim the defence of “justified assault” or “reasonable chastisement” when they have used physical force to discipline a child under the age of 16. Whether the force used is named justified assault is based on the nature of the punishment, its duration and frequency, the age of the child and the effect – both physical and mental – it had on them.
Mr Finnie’s Bill, which ends the defence of reasonable chastisement, would make parents liable to prosecution for the use of any kind of physical force on their children – this includes actions such as smacking with a hand or an implement, kicking, shaking or throwing children – scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion.
Ireland banned smacking back in 2015 and Wales is close to introducing a ban but there are currently no plans to do the same in England or Northern Ireland.