Minister warns smacking damages child’s long-term wellbeing

Smacking children is banned by law in countries such as Sweden and Ireland. Picture posed by models. Picture: iStock

Smacking children is banned by law in countries such as Sweden and Ireland. Picture posed by models. Picture: iStock

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Scotland’s children’s minister has launched a outspoken attack on the smacking of children warning that “any form” of physical punishment can damage the long-term wellbeing of youngsters.

Aileen Campbell says there are no current plans to change the law and ban the practice.

Children’s charities, welfare and human rights bodies and the UN have all voiced their concerns that violence against children has a significant impact

Alison McInnes

The Scottish Government wants to “learn” from countries where a smacking ban has been introduced such as Sweden and Ireland, after widespread calls among children’s charities for action.

But ministers have been warned to keep out of family life by opposition parties who say a ban would be “unnecessary and invasive”.

In Scotland, the practice of smacking children is still allowed in law as long as it is deemed to be “reasonable chastisement”. About a third of parents still smack their children, studies suggest, although it is believed to be declining.

There is growing pressure on the Scottish Government to outlaw the practice completely among children’s welfare organisations and academic experts. A recent report entitled Equally Protected? which looked into the evidence surrounding physical punishment of youngsters suggested a number of ill-effects.

Ms Campbell set out ministers’ hostility to the practice in a series of parliamentary answers published yesterday.

“The Scottish Government does not support the physical punishment of children and does not consider that physical punishment of children is effective,” she states.

Asked if about the prospect of removing the defence of “reasonable chastisement” – effectively banning the practice in law – Ms Campbell says ministers realise there are “differing views” on the issue.

A spokeswoman for Ms Campbell last night insisted there are no plans to change the law to ban smacking. The government would “consult widely” before legislating, but continues to work with groups such as Children’s 1st which supports a ban.

“We also wish to learn from the experience of other countries that have legislated to prohibit the physical punishment of children, such as Sweden, Ireland and New Zealand,” Ms Campbell added.

“The physical punishment of children in any form can damage their wellbeing and is likely to be detrimental either physically or emotionally.”

The Equally Protected? report points to links between smacking youngsters and adult aggression or antisocial behaviour, as well as links to depressive symptoms and anxiety among children, the minister says.

She adds: “One of the key messages is that “physical punishment is not effective in achieving parenting goals” and that is why the national parenting strategy seeks to ensure that all parents are educated, informed and supported to care for their children using acceptable forms of boundary setting.”

The Scottish Government was urged not to interfere in family life by the Tories.

“Parents should absolutely reserve the right to be able to use reasonable chastisement when raising their children,” Conservative children’s spokeswoman Liz Smith said.

“It would be disappointing to see the SNP pursue legislation against this. Families would feel it’s an unnecessary and invasive move, and one for which there is not a demand for in Scotland.”

Liberal Democrat Alison McInnes, who raised the issue in a series of parliamentary questions, welcomed Ms Campbell’s intervention.

“I’m very pleased that the minister has said that within the Scottish Government there are minds that are open to considering legislating against the physical punishment of children,” she said.
“No form of violence against children can be tolerated in this day and age. Children’s charities, welfare and human rights bodies and the UN have all voiced their concerns that violence against children has a significant impact on both their physical and mental health, not just when they’re young but in their later lives as well. Children deserve the same level of legal protection from violence as adults and the sooner that is the case, the better.”

The Equally Protected? report was jointly commissioned by the Children’s 1st charity.

Mary Glasgow, the charity’s director of children and family services, said: “The Scottish Government is clear that it does not support physical punishment. We welcome Alison McInnes MSP’s continued interest in this subject, and the support of a large number of organisations across health, education and social work. We look forward to continuing to discuss with the government how we can advance this issue to make Scotland the best place in the world to grow up.”

Last year, a United Nations report called on the UK to “put an end to corporal punishment in all settings” and encourage non-violent forms of discipline instead. Research found smacking can lead to depression and there is a greater chance that the children will go on to be violent themselves.

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