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  1. ITV Report

Scotland considers banning parents from smacking their children but what is the law in other countries?

  • Video report by ITV News Scotland Correspondent Peter Smith

Legislation aimed at banning the smacking of children in Scotland has been published at Holyrood.

Green MSP John Finnie introduced the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill after gaining the backing of the Scottish Government and MSPs from across all the political parties.

If passed, the legislation would remove the defence of “justifiable assault” in Scots law, which allows parents to use physical punishment to admonish a child.

Mr Finnie’s Member’s Bill is also supported by a range of organisations including the Scottish Police Federation, Barnardo’s Scotland, the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland and the NSPCC.

Responding to the legislation, Dr Stuart Waiton of the Be Reasonable Campaign claimed parents, including Mr Finnie himself, could be retrospectively punished under the law.

He told ITV News: "Mr Finnie who's introducing the bill smacked his children, perhaps we can retrospectively go back and see him as a criminal, myself, I smacked my children does that make me a child abuser?"

He added: "It demonises parents, it takes away from their basic ability to use their own judgement, sensibly, to discipline their children."

A public consultation last year received more than 650 responses with almost 75% of those in favour of the legislation.

Mr Finnie said: “I am delighted to be formally lodging my Bill to give children equal protection from assault in the Scottish Parliament today.

“Children deserve the same legal protection from assault that adults enjoy, a position that children’s rights organisations and charities have long been arguing.

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“Substantial academic research from around the world shows that physical punishment does not work and is shown to be counter-productive. My Bill aims to support parents to make positive choices.

“The Bill will not change the way that police and social work deal with assault against children. Rather it establishes the principle that assault can never be ‘justifiable’.”

Matt Forde of NSPCC Scotland said: “John Finnie’s Bill, and the Scottish Government’s support for it, is a huge step forward for our children.

“It is wrong that a legal defence which does not exist in a case of common assault against an adult can be used to justify striking a child.

“Closing this loophole brings Scotland in line with dozens of other countries in Europe and across the world and gives our children equal protection from assault."

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  • Smacking laws in the UK and rest of world

In terms of laws banning parents from smacking their children, the UK is well behind the rest of Europe where only nine countries have made no commitment to banning smacking in all settings.

Those countries are the UK, France, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy, Czech Republic, Kosovo, Belarus and Russia.

In the UK it is lawful for a parent or carer to smack their child where it amounts to “reasonable chastisement,” however in early 2018 Wales launched a 12-week consultation on whether to enforce a ban.

France recently considered a ban but legislation was thrown out in 2017 when the Constitutional Council, which scrutinises legislation, rejected the proposal on technical grounds.

Italy's supreme court declared in 1996 child smacking to be unlawful in all settings including the home but prohibition has not yet been enacted in legislation.

The rest of Europe has either already banned child smacking in all settings or have made commitments for a full ban.

Across the world 53 states have prohibition in all settings and 57 states have committed to reforming their laws to achieve a complete ban.

There are still 33 states, including Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Somalia where whipping, flogging, and caning is still lawful.

A map of child smacking laws around the world. Credit: endcorporalpunishment.org

The Scottish proposal to move in line with the rest of Europe is opposed by campaign group Be Reasonable Scotland – backed by The Christian Institute and The Family Education Trust – which argues a ban will “criminalise parents”.

A spokesman for the group said: “More than 140 countries around the world continue to respect parents’ freedom – and responsibility – to discipline their children appropriately.

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“This Bill could see them in the dock for simply tapping their kids on the back of the hand or pulling them away from the side of the road.

“Police and social workers are already overstretched.

“Criminalising loving parents for giving a light, infrequent smack for the purpose of teaching right from wrong will inevitably divert valuable resources away from children who genuinely need help.”

Responding, child protection officer Dr Alison Steele told ITV News that research suggests corporal punishment is ineffective.

She said: "Research shows there are no positives to smacking children but there are a lot of negatives including in the long term problems with aggression with anti--social behaviour, with depression, low self esteem etc."