‘Smacking ban’ or Equal Protection? Sorting the myths from the facts

There has been no shortage of commentary about the Scottish Government’s announcement that it will ensure John Finnie’s proposed Member’s Bill to give children equal protection from assault becomes law.

While much of the media coverage has been supportive, some has been inaccurate, with many headlines heralding the introduction of a ‘smacking ban’.

Add to the mix the frenzy of social media and online comments and it’s not hard to see why many people will be confused about what exactly will change, particularly as, for many of us, legal reform marks a shift in the approach parents took when we were children.

So, let’s sort the myths from the facts.

The Bill will not create a new criminal offence

At present, parents charged with assaulting a child can argue in their defence that they were using physical punishment. In law this is known as “justifiable assault”. The Bill as proposed simply removes this defence, giving children the same, equal protection from assault in law as adults.

The Scottish Police Federation has clearly said it does not believe that removing the statutory defence will result in a significant increase in the prosecution of parents and carers. And there is no evidence from countries that have reformed the law that more parents will be criminalised.

The Bill is not a judgement on past parenting practices

In a balanced piece in The Scotsman, (Smack ban harsh if it monsters good parents, The Scotsman, 21 October), Dani Garavelli, while supporting the legislation, talks about the realities of parental pressures and the need to avoid demonising those of us who have smacked when at the end of our tether:

“Changing the culture on smacking is an admirable objective, but if, in order to do so, we portray it as a great social evil – the kind of thing only very “bad” parents would do – we risk driving it underground.

“…we should be empowering mums and dads by increasing their confidence not reinforcing their sense of inadequacy.”

We couldn’t agree more. At Children 1st, we’ve long campaigned for children to have equal protection from assault, not to stigmatise parents, but to support them. This is not a ‘them and us’ debate about 'good' versus 'bad' parenting: it's about all of us recognising that physical punishment doesn't work and can harm children.

Parents will still be able to choose how to raise their children

Changing the law to give children the same protection from assault as adults does not stop parents from choosing how to raise their children or how to manage their behaviour. Legal reform will simply stop physical punishment being an option.

At Children 1st we spend our days alongside the families that are under the most pressure, empowering them to keep their children safer, happier and healthier. Based on our experience, we believe that removing the defence of justifiable assault will help improve family relationships, encourage conversations about parenting and should be accompanied by investment in early help and support.

The Bill will have a positive impact on children

There are no studies showing that children’s behaviour improves as a result of physical punishment and most show that it makes a child’s long-term behaviour worse and is detrimental to their wellbeing.

In fact, the science points the other way: that responding to children in a loving, calm and secure way bring benefits for children’s brain development and long-term wellbeing.

To sort the facts from the spin in more depth, read our Equal Protection Myth-buster.