An MP today launched a new attempt to end the smacking of children – and spoke of his regret at hitting his own son.
Edinburgh West Liberal Democrat Mike Crockart said attitudes had been different 15 years ago and admitted he had smacked his son – now 18 – for misbehaving.
But he said he now realised he had been “completely and utterly wrong” and would never think of smacking his younger son, aged six. He spoke out as he prepared to ask next weekend’s Scottish Lib Dem conference to call for the scrapping of “reasonable chastisement” as a legal defence in Scots law.
Mr Crockart said times had changed and there were more suitable ways of punishing children, but Britain’s laws on corporal punishment were stuck in the 19th century.
Ten years ago, the Scottish Parliament banned shaking, blows to the head or the use of an implement in corporal punishment, but stopped short of outlawing smacking altogether.
Mr Crockart said the 2003 legislation was a major step forward. But he said: “We still have this defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ as a justification for the common law assault of children. That seems a throwback not just to last century, but the century before.”
He said there had been a cultural shift away from smacking, but a change in the law could help protect children who were still being hit.
“We hope by doing this we can help make hitting a child culturally unacceptable,” he said.
“I have an 18-year-old son and a six-year-old son. I hold my hands up – 15 years ago it was a different culture and I did smack my older boy.
“But I now know it was completely and utterly the wrong thing to do. There are far better ways to get a child to realise what they are doing is wrong. What children like is attention, so the far greater punishment is less attention – time out, sitting on the naughty step; the general rule is a minute per year of their age.
“Three minutes seems interminable for a three-year-old. It’s remarkable to see the effect of having to sit still and think about what they have done, it works marvellously.”
The motion from West Edinburgh Lib Dems to the conference in Dundee calls for legislation to abolish the “reasonable chastisement” defence and for the party to fight the 2016 Holyrood elections with a manifesto commitment to equal protection for children.
Mr Crockart said that no similar defence was available for assaulting adults and the UK was among just a handful of countries in Europe which had failed to legislate for equal protection of children from assault.
Worldwide, 33 states had prohibited corporal punishment of children entirely, including Germany, Spain and the world’s newest nation, South Sudan. “We are behind South Sudan in our protection of children,” he said.
Kate Higgins, policy manager at Children 1st, said: “Our current law allows children to be physically punished as long as it is ‘justifiable’ – this defence is unjust and unsafe, and must be abolished now.”