Scotland bans smacking children in 'momentous' decision

3 October 2019, 17:36

Nick Hardinges

By Nick Hardinges

Scotland has become the first part of the UK to ban smacking on a "momentous day for children's rights" at Holyrood.

MSPs passed the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill by 84 votes to 29 on Thursday making it illegal for parents to use physical force against children.

The legislation was brought forward by Green MSP John Finnie to offer children the same level of protection against violence that adults enjoy.

It will come into effect within a year of the Bill being given Royal Assent and removes the argument of justifiable defence previously accepted in Scottish law.

Anti-smacking campaigners celebrated the decision at Holyrood
Anti-smacking campaigners celebrated the decision at Holyrood. Picture: Global's Newsroom

Under current legislation, parents and carers in Scotland can use "reasonable" physical force in order to discipline children.

However, Scotland will follow in the footsteps of Sweden who became the first country in the world to ban smacking in 1979, bringing the UK nation into line with UN recommendations.

Mr Finnie was "delighted" with the outcome and said it sent a "strong message" to people across the country that violence is never acceptable.

"Physical punishment has no place in 21st century Scotland. The international evidence tells us that it can have serious impacts on children, and that it is not effective," he said.

"As I have progressed this campaign over the last three years, it has become clear just how many people believed that striking a child was already outlawed.

The Green MSP was "proud" to have played a vital role in pushing through the legislation and believed it would improve children's rights in Scotland.

He continued: "Today, we have taken a huge step toward making Scotland the best country in the world for children to grow up in."

Mr Finnie's celebrations were echoed by Dunja Mijatovic, the commissioner of human rights at the Council of Europe.

She tweeted: "I congratulate the Scottish Parliament for adopting the law to give children equal protection from assault. There is no place for violence in a child's life. This law is a good step towards the full realisation of children’s rights in the country."

Not everyone in Holyrood was happy with the decision, with Scottish Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell saying he could not support the Bill as it could lead to the prosecution of otherwise law-abiding parents.

"I believe violence against children is wrong. However, that is not the issue before us today," he said.

"Today we are being asked to pass into law primary legislation that is imprecise and suboptimal. I don't think that it's foreseeable at all for parents what circumstances they could find themselves entangled with the criminal justice system."

Mr Finnie rejected the argument that the law would criminalise decent parents.

He said: "There is no evidence that a change to the law results in increased prosecutions in any of the more than 50 countries where some of the reforms have taken place.

"In fact, this change in the law in Ireland prompted more parents to contact services to ask for help and support with alternative disciplining techniques.

"Surely this is something which should be welcomed, and an encouraging consequence of a positive legal change."