Credit: Creative Commons

Jordan Hunter

Scotland is to become the first country in the UK to make it a criminal offence for parents to use corporal punishment against their children.

The proposed Children (Equal Protection from Assault) Bill would remove protections parents previously had to hit, smack or spank their children, usually for disciplinary purposes.

In the Executive Summary of the bill, it cites the UN Rights of the Child Committee's suggestion that the UK give equal protection from parents as much as the general public by removing the justifiable assault clause currently in place. 

Under the current law, all physical attacks on adults can be treated as assault - but children do not have the same protection.

This is because a person accused of assaulting a child can claim a defence of "reasonable chastisement" or "justifiable assault" when they have used physical force as a form of discipline on children under the age of 16.

The summary shows during the initial consultation phase that support for the bill was approximately 75%. However, it is contradicted by two independent polls suggesting the real support for the bill reaches less than 14% and that many consultation phase polls are skewed because they are politically motivated. 

Opponents argue that this bill would restrict parents’ rights to discipline their children. They also claim that this is an intrusion on the family and a family’s privacy in the home. 

Professor Sutherland, a child and family law professor at the University of Stirling, agrees with the proposal.

"To permit parents to hit their children sends the young entirely the wrong message; that the strong and powerful will prevail by using physical coercion against the vulnerable and the powerless," Sutherland said.

Thus far there are good indications for the bill passing, including the high support in the first reading vote. The bill is a private members bill presented by Green MSP John Finnie. Finnie's previous version of the bill had the support of the government in 2017 and was stalled in consultation until recently. The government has indicated that they plan to support the ban once again.

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