Strong support for Bill aimed at protecting children from physical punishment

Children’s charities have welcomed support from organisations across Scotland for a bill that would help to give greater protection to young people.

The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill was introduced by Scottish Green MSP John Finnie and is under consideration at the Scottish Parliament.

It would create a law to abolish the defence of reasonable chastisement of a child.

Under current legislation, a person can claim that the physical punishment of a child is justifiable as a parental right or as a right of having charge or care of the child – although the court does also consider a number of factors such as the nature of the action and duration.

In written submissions to Holyrood’s Equality and Human Rights Committee on Wednesday, a number of organisations expressed their support for the Bill.

Those included the Church of Scotland, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Parenting across Scotland, the Scottish Youth Parliament, CoSLA, Social Work Scotland and the Law Society of Scotland

The Church of Scotland, in its submission, wrote: “The Church believes that the resort to violence should cease to be acceptable as our society comes to understand its negative impact.”

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health indicated that there is “very extensive evidence” that children subjected to physical punishment are at increased risk of developing aggressive and antisocial behaviours, and stated that there was no evidence of any benefit of using hitting as discipline.

Mary Glasgow (pictured), Children 1st chief executive, said: “It’s fantastic to see such strong Scotland-wide support for the Equal Protection Bill and for children’s rights.

“The Bill will give parents clarity, ensure all children have the same protection from assault and bring Scots law in to step with the overwhelming evidence that there are other more positive ways parents can support their children to grow into kind, respectful; and responsible citizens.”

Joanna Barrett, NSPCC Scotland said: “It’s wrong that children in Scotland have less protection from assault and that a legal defence which does not exist when an adult is hit can be used to justify striking a child.

“We have long campaigned for equal protection for children and we strongly believe a change in the law is a common-sense move. Closing this loophole brings Scotland in line with dozens of countries across the world and is simply about fairness and equality for our children.”

Martin Crewe, Barnardo’s Scotland director said: “This legal change to provide children in Scotland with Equal Protection from physical assault within the law has been a long time coming.

“Through our work with children, young people and families, we know how important positive, healthy attachments and relationships are. Children’s brains develop best when they feel safe and when they are nurtured.”

“We are delighted to see so much support from across Scottish civil society for the Bill and we look forward to contributing to support its progression through the Scottish Parliament.”

John Finnie MSP said: “My bill will bring Scotland in line with best practice internationally, providing children with equal protection from assault.

“I am pleased that so many individuals and organisations have indicated support and I look forward to the Committee scrutinising the bill in the weeks and months ahead.”

There has, however, been criticism of the proposals, with Police Scotland suggesting in their submission to the committee that the legislation could result in increased costs to the force as officers spend time probing allegations against parents.

The submission said: “Police Scotland envisages that the repeal of the defence provided by Section 51 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 will result in an increase in reporting. This will have potential cost/resource implications for Police Scotland and partner agencies.

“On occasions, it may be assessed that the harm is not, nor is likely to be, significant following a report of what is commonly referred to as ‘chastisement’.

“Notwithstanding, there would be a duty on the police to investigate any assault on a child and if a sufficiency of evidence exists, report the circumstances to Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.”

Be Reasonable Scotland, a group which opposes the legislation, said the Government needs to “back away” from the plans to criminalise parents.

The group said: “The police have rightly recognised that parents and carers are going to end up being investigated and perhaps prosecuted for doing what they have done for generations – lovingly disciplining their children.

“This is unwarranted state intervention at its very worst.”

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