Smacking children: what are the current laws?

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Greens MSP, John Finnie, has proposed a ban on smacking children, which has now gone to a public consultation. But what are the current laws in Scotland?

In 2003 the Scottish Parliament changed the law on the physical punishment of children. Section 51 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act prohibits children from being hit on the head, being shaken or being punished with a belt, cane or implement. As with England, Northern Ireland and Wales, Scotland currently has no ban on smacking and parents are allowed to use “reasonable chastisement”. Since the term reasonable was never properly explained, the Children’s Act of 2004 sought to clarify the laws around smacking. If a parent hits their child so hard that a bruise, mark, bruising, cut or swelling occurs then this could result in criminal charges under the revised Act. Scottish law allows parents to claim a defence of “justified assault” when punishing their child or children.

It is this defence that Highlands and Island Greens MSP, John Finnie wishes to tackle under his proposed ban, a public consultation on which will run until the 4th August. Mr Finnie said about the proposed ban: “Scotland cannot be thought of as the best place in the world for children to grow up while our law gives children less protection from assault than anybody else in society. There is clear evidence that the use of physical punishment is detrimental to children’s long term health and wellbeing.”

Many charities have supported the proposed ban, including NSPCC Scotland, One Parent Families Scotland and Barnardos.

Mary Glasgow, Director of Children and Family Services and Policy, Children 1st says: “Parents tell Children 1st’s ParentLine service that using physical punishment makes their children’s behaviour worse and strains their relationships. Their experience is backed up by a robust body of research, which shows that physical punishment doesn’t work and can be harmful to children’s long-term health and wellbeing. Most parents in Scotland today have already chosen not to use physical punishment but we cannot continue to let our law give the mistaken impression that physical punishment can be helpful, when we know, without a doubt, that it can harm.”

• READ MORE: Smacking ban is not about criminalising parents, says MSP

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