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Scotland takes ‘historic step’ with ban on smacking

MSPs have voted in favour of introducing legislation making it a criminal offence to use physical punishment against a child.

MSPs celebrate the passing of legislation to ban the smacking of children (Tom Eden/PA)
MSPs celebrate the passing of legislation to ban the smacking of children (Tom Eden/PA)

By Lewis McKenzie, PA Scotland Political Reporter

Scotland has become the first country in the UK to ban parents and carers from smacking children.

MSPs voted by 84 to 29 in favour of introducing a law which will make it a criminal offence for parents to use physical punishment against a child.

Currently, parents and carers are allowed to use “reasonable” physical force in order to discipline children.

The law change is aimed at giving children the same protection from assault as adults, as well as bringing Scotland into line with United Nations recommendations.

The Bill was passed at the Scottish Government on Thursday, despite a YouGov poll of 1,546 adults from across the UK which suggested 57% oppose the move.

A rally was held outside the Scottish Parliament ahead of the vote in support of the ban (Jane Barlow/PA)

Scottish Green MSP John Finnie, who introduced the legislation, said passage of the Bill sent a “strong message” that violence is never acceptable.

He said: “I am absolutely delighted that the Scottish Parliament has taken this historic and courageous step.

“The leadership shown by MSPs will send a strong message that violence is never acceptable in any setting, and that our children deserve at least the same legal protections that adults enjoy.

“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.

“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.

“I am extremely proud to have brought forward the legislation that will enhance children’s rights in Scotland and believe that today we have taken a huge step toward making Scotland the best country in the world for children to grow up in.”

Mr Finnie earlier addressed critics of the Bill, who suggested it could criminalise 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.”

He said many support services, both within the Government and in the third sector, anticipate a similar reaction in Scotland to that in Ireland, and are ready to help parents with the change.

But Scottish Conservative MSP Oliver Mundell said he could not support the Bill.

He added: “I believe violence against children is wrong. However, that is not the issue before us today.

“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.”

Scottish Labour MSP Mary Fee hailed the Bill as “an important step forward for children’s rights”, whilst calling for adequate funding to publicise the change in law.

She said: “There needs to be a co-ordinated campaign message so that parents, care-givers, teachers and social workers are aware of the implications of the changes being made.”

Scottish Liberal Democrat MSP Alex Cole-Hamilton added: “Today, Scotland joins a family of more enlightened nations.

“Those countries who have recognised that the measure of a modern and progressive nation is in the rights it extends to its most vulnerable citizens and in the protection it offers its children.”



From Belfast Telegraph