Smacking ban "sends clear message" to parents

28 March 2019, 14:42


Holyrood legislating to ban smacking sends a "very clear message" to parents that physical punishment for children is "not acceptable", a Scottish Government minister has said.

Children's Minister Maree Todd dismissed claims that banning smacking could lead to a rise in assaults and rapes.

Instead she said there is "quite a strong link between having been physically punished and behavioural problems later on".

She spoke out after Professor Robert Larzelere from Oklahoma University claimed Sweden had recorded massive increase in rapes of children under the age of 15 after a ban on corporal punishment was introduced there.

He told MSPs on Holyrood's Equalilties Committee: "Some of this 73-fold increase is likely because a small but increasing number of boys never learn to accept 'no' from their mothers or from others objecting to what they want."

Ms Todd rejected this, saying: "There are always in science voices who challenge evidence but I'm very clear that the body of evidence is supportive that using violence, using physical punishment in children, leads to more likelihood of violence in older age.

"There is quite a strong link between having been physically punished and behavioural problems later on."

She told the committee, which is considering a member's bill from John Finnie aimed at outlawing smacking, that the "evidence is growing that smacking is harmful to children, that it is an ineffective form of discipline".

Mr Finnie, a Green MSP, has introduced the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) Bill which, if passed, would remove the defence of "justifiable assault" in Scots law, which allows parents to use physical punishment on children.

The campaign group Be Reasonable, which has branded this an "intrusion into family life", staged a demonstration outside Holyrood as the committee heard from both Ms Todd and Mr Finnie.

The Children's Minister explained the Scottish Government was backing the bill, saying: "We believe that children should have the same legal protection from assault as adults and the bill will achieve this."

She said removing the "justifiable assault" defence "reflects the growing body of evidence that indicates physical punishment of children is both ineffective and harmful".

Ms Todd added: "It will send a clear message it's not necessary for parents and carers to use physical punishment to discipline their children.

"Our aim is for Scotland to be the best place in the world for our children to grow up and this bill will contribute to that aim.

"The important thing for us to do is to bring clarity to the situation, to say absolutely physical punishment is not acceptable in Scotland.

"The body of evidence around the physical punishment of children is that it is harmful to their emotional and mental health, it is not an effective discipline strategy."

Mr Finnie later told the committee his bill was not intended to bring about a rise in the number of parents being prosecuted, saying this had not occurred in countries where similar legislation has already been brought in.

He said: "The intention of the bill is to send a direction of travel about child welfare and child upbringing, it's not to criminalise parents.

"At the moment, parents could be criminalised for using excessive force on a child.

"This is to send guidance and put support in place to say that there are better ways, because all the evidence tells us there's better ways.

"So it's not about criminalising anyone, it's about supporting children."

Be Reasonable spokesman Simon Calvert said "the public and parents are massively against this latest intrusion into family life by those who want to impose their own parenting preferences on every home in Scotland".

He added: "The evidence clearly shows that the vast majority of Scots do not back this ban.

"They need to communicate this to their MSPs before it's too late."