Scotland's smacking ban must be enforced in a way that builds support – Scotsman comment

The introduction of the smacking ban in Scotland next month is a landmark moment in this country’s history.
(Picture: John Devlin)(Picture: John Devlin)
(Picture: John Devlin)

For supporters, it is a step towards a brighter future in which generations of children will no longer learn that violence has a place in society. For opponents, it will turn “ordinary, decent mums and dads” trying to make sure their children quickly learn important lessons into criminals.

Most adults alive today will have been smacked as a child but there is a growing acceptance that this is not the best way to discipline young people and that stronger action must be taken to reduce the number of brutal, life-scarring assaults carried out by a minority of parents. It is also a bizarre anomaly that children are given less protection against assault than adults when they should get as much, if not more.

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The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act, brought forward by Greens MSP John Finnie, is the latest in a number of laws designed more to change attitudes, rather than create an offence for which people are regularly taken to court.

However, new Scottish Government guidance, which says that "if you see someone physically punishing their child you should call 999 to report a crime in progress or if a child or young person is in immediate danger”, makes it clear that prosecution is an option.

Anyone witnessing a serious assault should call the police whether it is a parent attacking a child or not, but the guidance might give anyone tempted to view parental chastisement in a different way encouragement to do the right thing.

That said, there is a risk if the police are deluged with reports of minor smacks, which could bring the law into disrepute as officers might not be able to respond to all such calls – there is an argument that an unenforced law is no law at all. This could also create resentment against the ban, rather than build support for it, if parents feel unfairly treated or if it is used as a way to settle scores.

Smack-free parenting is the ideal, but the authorities need to make sure any prosecutions are truly in the public interest in order to produce the desired outcome – generations of happy, well-behaved and self-confident children.

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