A ban on parents smacking their children “is long overdue” to bring Scotland in line with its human rights obligations, the children’s commissioner has said.
It was put forward by Green MSP John Finnie and will now go to a Holyrood committee to be considered in more detail before politicians are asked to give final approval for it to become law.
The bill has also won the backing of the Scottish government and a public consultation but has been opposed by Conservative MSPs, who fear that it could lead to the criminalisation of parents.
“In terms of human rights, I think this is long overdue,” Bruce Adamson, Scotland’s Children and Young People’s Commissioner, told RightsInfo.
“The UK has been very slow to legislate against physical punishment.
He added: “This is bringing us into line with our comprehensive legal obligations to protect children from violence in the home.
“We would really like to see the other parts of the UK join us.”
While Scotland now joins Wales in a bid to ban smacking, England and Northern Ireland lag behind.
‘Justifiable Assault’: Where Does Scottish Law Currently Stand On Smacking?
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Scottish parents who punish their children using violence are currently able to claim the legal defence of “justifiable assault” – which Finnie’s bill seeks to put a stop to.
This, however, does not allow parents to use an “implement” or shake or strike a child’s head.
Parents in England, Wales and Northern Ireland can also use the defence of “reasonable chastisement”.
But they can face criminal charges if they hit the child so hard that it leaves a mark or causes injury.
Speaking during Tuesday’s debate, Finnie said: “A growing body of international evidence shows that physical punishment of children is harmful to their development and not an effective means of discipline.”
But Tory MSP Oliver Mundell argued that the bill was an “assault on family life” as it would see the state intervene in cases where a child’s welfare is not at risk.
The law as it stands means that “parents and social workers have a real lack of clarity as to what level of violence is acceptable,” the Children’s Commissioner told RightsInfo.
“This change will make it very clear that physical punishment is not acceptable.”
What About Human Rights?
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Mr Adamson told RightsInfo that Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child “requires protections from all forms of physical and mental violence from carers”.
“It requires states to take administrative, legal, social and educational measures.”
He added: “It is very clear that violence in the home can never be tolerated and that there is no right to use violence in respect for the right to private and family life.”
Smacking also contravenes Article 37 of the Convention, he said, which protects children from torture and degrading treatment.
Addressing fears that parents could be criminalised, Mr Adamson said: “The evidence internationally is that it does not lead to increases in prosecutions, or significant interventions, or negative interventions against on families.”
“Instead we have seen a real significant culture change overtime.”
Follow the links below to learn more about this issue:
- The smacking debate in Wales.
- Read our explainer on parental rights and how they are protected
- Check out our nifty infographic on Article 3 and the right not to be tortured
- Read about our interview with Jean Lambert MEP on the issue of children’s rights