Leader comment: Smacking cannot be the right answer

A rising number of EU countries have introduced bans on smacking children.
A rising number of EU countries have introduced bans on smacking children.
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There can no longer be many parents who believe smacking is a justified and effective way of administering discipline and promoting good behaviour.

Just as corporal punishment in schools has been long consigned to a misguided past, so too ultimately should the use of violence to subdue children in our own homes.

The debate over smacking has once again come to the fore after Green MSP John Finnie said he planned to bring forward a member’s bill at Holyrood which would end the defence of “justifiable assault” for parents who use physical punishment to admonish a child.

Mr Finnie has said his bill is not about criminalising parents but should it be introduced, that is exactly what it will do.

He’s right, however, that Scotland is increasingly “out of step” with the rest of the world on the issue.

A number of other EU countries have bans on smacking, the oldest being Sweden’s, introduced almost 40 years ago in 1978.

In January, France became the 52nd country in the world to introduce a ban, leaving Britain as one of a dwindling number of countries in Europe where smacking remains a legal way of disciplining children.

The French legislation went even further than smacking, however, ordering parents to “abstain from all forms of violence: physical, verbal and psychological”, meaning that humiliating remarks also count as violence.

All the evidence suggests that smacking is an ineffective form of punishment and can also store up problems for the recipient in later life by helping to normalise violence.

Mr Finnie‘s proposed ban has the backing of organisations including the Church of Scotland, the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents, NSPCC, Children 1st, the Children and Young People’s Commissioner and Barnardo’s.

It is to be expected that the majority of parents would also be in favour, although the introduction of legislation into such an emotive area is always problematic.

The pace of change in societal 
attitudes is often glacial and can sometimes only be affected with one final push. The example of the smoking ban shows how the introduction of legislation can change behaviour almost overnight.

Mr Finnie’s proposed ban is a reasonable proposal and demands serious consideration.