On the 3rdof October 2019 Scotland became the first country in the UK to make it an offence to smack your child. The ban on all physical punishment was introduced by Green MSP John Finnie and was backed by 84 votes to 29. Although Scotland may be leading the way in the UK, legislating against smacking children is not a ground-breaking concept. Sweden became the first country to ban smacking back in 1979, and Scotland is now the 58thcountry in the world follow suit. Wales is also on the verge of introducing a ban but there are no current plans for England or Northern Ireland to introduce legislation of this type.
The ban removes the defence of reasonable chastisement. When deciding whether the chastisement was reasonable, the courts would take into account factors such as; the nature of the punishment, its duration and frequency, the age of the child and the effect it had physically and mentally. Now children in Scotland have the same protection from assault as adults.
There are critics of the ban including the Scottish Conservatives and some child psychologists. There has also been a campaign against the ban led by ‘Be Reasonable Scotland’. They argue that the smacking ban is unnecessary, will not help vulnerable children and may lead to ‘traumatic intervention’ in ‘good’ families. In support of the ban, some Paediatricians argue that smacking can cause long-term harm and leads to the development of more aggressive behaviours. The passing of the Act has been hailed as a step forward for child’s rights and shows the change of societies view on physical discipline on children.
It will be interesting to see how the new legislation is utilised in practice and what changes we might see unfolding in the next few years.
By Carys McIntyre, Law Clinic volunteer, LLB3