The Scottish parliament has voted by an overwhelming majority (80 votes to 29) in support of banning the physical punishment of children.
The bill, which was lodged by the Scottish Green MSP John Finnie, removes the defence of ‘justifiable assault’ from Scots law and "send a clear message" that physically punishing children is unacceptable.
What are the current laws?
Whether the victim is a child or adult, an attack on one person by another is considered an assault. Although assault against adults cannot be justified in Scotland, currently some cases of assault against children can. If someone is charged with assault of a child, the person can claim the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ or ‘justifiable assault’ where they have used physical force to discipline a child. The bill argues that children are therefore not given the same legal protection as adults.
In England and Northern Ireland, parents are allowed to use ‘reasonable chastisement’, while the Welsh government introduced similar legislation to Scotland in March 2019.
Several MSPs argued against the proposal, with Oliver Mundell calling the bill "sheer madness" as it would criminalise parents for disciplining their children. Labour’s Iain Gray also warned that passing the legislation would not "resolve all the difficulties and challenges that face children in the country today."
However, chief executive of charity Children 1st, Mary Glasgow, believes the bill is not intended to blame or shame parents but is a ‘momentous step’ forward in dealing with children’s rights in line with other countries:
“Acknowledging that family life is better when hitting and violence is off the table helps with that cultural shift and brings legislation up to date with where most people have already got to.”
There are currently 54 countries that prohibit the physical punishment of children, and a further 56 counties that have committed to reforming laws to ban physical punishment against children.
National head of service for NSPCC Scotland, Matt Forde, concluded:
“Rectifying this unfair legal loophole is a common-sense step, which would bring Scotland into line with dozens of other countries across the world.
Physical punishment is harmful to children and its days are rightly numbered.”
The bill – Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill – will now be scrutinised and amended at committee stage.
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