Smacking ban ‘will do nothing to help vulnerable children’

A ban on smacking in Scotland is “unnecessary” and will “do nothing to help vulnerable children”, campaigners have claimed.

Scottish Green MSP John Finnie has brought forward a member’s bill, which if passed would remove the defence of “justifiable assault” in Scots law, which allows parents to use physical punishment on children.

A majority of MSPs on Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee last week stated their support for the proposed legislation.

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But some campaigners have suggested it could lead to the criminalisation of parents.

In an open letter, a group of academics, parenting experts and campaigners have urged MSPs to oppose it.

“We are deeply concerned by legislation before the Scottish Parliament to remove the defence of reasonable chastisement and introduce a ‘smacking ban’,” the group write in their letter.

“It is unnecessary, will do nothing to help vulnerable children and will instead cause traumatic intervention in good families.

“The discourse around smacking is dishonest. It conflates ‘hitting’ and violence with smacking.

“But violence against children is already outlawed under current legislation.”

It adds: “The reasonable chastisement defence merely allows a caring parent to use a light tap on the hand or bottom without being charged with an assault.

“A careful examination of the evidence does not find that light, infrequent physical discipline is harmful to children.

“Major studies on smacking are often misinterpreted or misused by academics seeking to further their own political agenda.”

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The group suggested the ban would cause stress for parents and make the work of the police and social services more difficult.

Its letter reads: “Removing the defence will leave loving parents open to police cautions and even criminal convictions for behaviour which is, by definition, ‘reasonable’.

“The stress this would bring to parents and children far outweighs any perceived benefits.

“A smacking ban would also make the work of the police and social services more difficult by bringing hundreds of good parents under the remit of child protection agencies, impeding efforts to identify actual abuse.

“The vast majority of Scots do not want to see smacking criminalised, regardless of their views on smacking as a parenting technique.

“We urge MSPs to oppose this legislation when it is debated.”

Mr Finnie said: “As they have done throughout their misinformation campaign, Be Reasonable continue to talk utter nonsense.

“This clandestine organisation should be honest with the people of Scotland and reveal exactly who funds them.

“The overwhelming evidence received by the Equalities and Human Rights Committee and all the international experience tells us that this is the right thing to do.

“I look forward to debating my bill on Tuesday and hope it will progress to the next stage of parliamentary scrutiny.”

Children’s Minister Maree Todd said: “The overwhelming weight of expert evidence – including from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health – strongly backed giving children the same protection against assault that the law gives to adults.

“It also commands support from the widest range of Scottish society including the Church of Scotland, Children First, Barnardos and other major children’s charities. And, of course, it is supported by an overwhelming majority of public opinion.

“Fifty-four countries around the world already prohibit the physical punishment of children. We believe it is time that Scotland joined them by giving children the same protection from assault we already give adults.”