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Smacking ban can change attitudes towards violence, MSPs told

Children and Young People’s Commissioner Bruce Adamson says similar legislation around the world has not led to a large rise in prosecutions.

The legislation could bring a change in culture, it has been suggested (Jon Challicom/PA)
The legislation could bring a change in culture, it has been suggested (Jon Challicom/PA)

Introducing legislation to ban smacking is the first step in changing the culture around physical punishment, it has been suggested.

MSPs are currently considering a bill that would remove the defence of “justifiable assault” in Scots law.

The defence currently allows parents to use physical punishment on children.

It has been claimed a ban would risk criminalising parents.

At Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights committee on Thursday, Bruce Adamson, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner for Scotland, said following the introduction of similar legislation in other countries around the world there had not been a large increase in the number of prosecutions nor had there been an instant change in public opinion.

Mr Adamson said there had been a gradual change in public opinion over time and a culture change towards violence.

“Without the legislation, you don’t get the culture change, that is what we know to be true,” Mr Adamson said.

“You need the legislation to deliver the culture change and in that way it could be seen as the same as things like seat belts in cars, our attitudes towards drink-driving or smoking in pubs, where you need to lead with the legislation in order to deliver the cultural change because it sets a very clear indication.

“It’s not the prosecutions that change the culture but it’s the very clear indication in the law as to what is expected.”

We need to accept that this is a really emotive issue. It speaks to how we were parented, it speaks to how we parent Policy and public affairs manager Joanna Barrett

Joanna Barrett, representing Barnardo’s Scotland, Children 1st and NSPCC Scotland, said a legal change would bring “absolute clarity” for parents and professionals seeking to support parents, as well as for children.

She said: “We need to accept that this is a really emotive issue.

“It speaks to how we were parented, it speaks to how we parent.

“So there’s not universal consensus about this, I think it’s fair to say.

“Most examples elsewhere in the world have brought this piece of legislation in in the face of some public opposition because it was the right thing to do.”

Ms Barrett also suggested some public opinion polls have indicated a disparity in support for the bill between older and younger generations.

“Older people are more likely not to support this bill and younger people overwhelmingly are,” Ms Barrett said.

“And we also need to look at the views of children and young people.

“The Scottish Youth Parliament (SYP) have put before us, in terms of their work, overwhelming statements from tens of thousands of young people in Scotland who say that this is absolutely something that we should do.

“As we see in terms of the decline in the use of physical punishment anyway, younger people are more likely to support this legislation and actually, they’re the parents of now and they are the parents of the future.”

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We welcome support for the member’s bill by John Finnie.

“This bill will give children the same legal protections as adults – something backed by an overwhelming majority of public opinion – and will seek to remove the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ that currently exists in law.

“We have set up an implementation group which will consider what actions need to be taken if the bill becomes law.

“We will continue to offer funding for a range of family support services and resources to help parents and carers.”

PA

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