Scotland is ‘out of step’ with legislation on child smacking

Youngsters and their parents would benefit from changing Scotland’s “ambiguous” laws on smacking, children’s campaigners said.

Jackie Brock, the chief executive of Children in Scotland, said the country is “increasingly out of step” with other nations in Europe on the protection offered to children.

Anne Houston, of Children 1st, said change is needed to help make Scotland the “best place for children to grow up”.

They were speaking after Staffan Janson, a Swedish expert on children’s well-being, told how banning smacking had brought about a culture change in his country.

Sweden was the first country in the world to outlaw smacking in 1979, with Mr Janson saying parents now adopt different methods for disciplining their youngsters.

He said more than 90% of Swedish parents now regard the idea of hitting their child as “disgusting”, saying changing the law had been key to making this happen.

Mr Janson, a professor of social paediatrics at the University of Karlstadt and Orebo, told Holyrood’s cross-party group on children and young people: ” Scandinavian parents have learned in one generation to completely refrain from spanking their children. They have changed their attitudes and behaviour towards children completely.

“Corporal punishment was once seen as normal: now, parents are committed to giving their children a peaceful upbringing. Today, more than 90% of all Swedish parents would consider the very idea of hitting their children as disgusting. Changing the law was key to making this happen.”

Current law in Scotland bans parents from shaking their children, hitting them on the head or using implements to physically punish them.

But they can argue that it was a “justifiable assault” if they punish a child by hitting them.

Ms Houston is a founding member of Children are Unbeatable, which campaigns for the abolition of all forms of physical punishment for youngsters.

She said: “It is not just experts like Staffan who tell us that changing the law would be good for children and families in Scotland. Parents tell us they feel guilty, stressed and shamed when they have hit their children. Some children still talk about being ‘battered’, ‘beaten’, ‘hammered’, ‘punched’ and ‘kicked’ by the people who are supposed to protect them.

“The law in Scotland is ambiguous, allowing parents to ‘justify’ assault in certain cases. It is incredible to think that we accept that the smallest and most vulnerable members of our society are the only ones whose assault is considered ‘justifiable’.

“Today, we have heard how changing the law, along with providing support for parents to find other ways to discipline their children, not only protects children from assault, but positively changes family relationships too.

“Thirty or 40 years from now we could be where Sweden is today, with children enjoying a peaceful upbringing. But to get there we need to make the changes that are needed to ensure Scotland is the best place for children to grow up.”

Ms Brock said: “The fact that children are still not afforded the same protection against physical assault as every other individual leaves Scotland increasingly out of step with the majority of other European jurisdictions.”