WHAT IS ‘REASONABLE CHASTISEMENT’?
The ‘reasonable chastisement defence’ prevents parents from being criminalised for smacking their children.
WHAT IS BEING PROPOSED?
Currently parents in Scotland are protected from being charged with assault if they smack their own children under the ‘reasonable chastisement defence’. MSP John Finnie’s Member’s Bill proposes to remove this protection. The Scottish Government has said it will support his Bill.
DOES THE LAW NEED TO BE CHANGED?
No. Any punishment that is immoderate or excessive is already deemed “unjustifiable” and therefore against the law. The legislation specifically outlaws blows to the head, shaking, or the use of an implement. Parents found guilty of assault can be imprisoned for up to five years and face an unlimited fine.
Banning reasonable chastisement would only divert resources away from protecting abused children. The Scottish Government should concentrate on improving awareness of the current law, rather than seeking to abolish it.
Parents, police and social workers can tell the difference between reasonable chastisement and child abuse. It would be bizarre if the law could not.
The European Court of Human Rights has upheld the legal defence of reasonable chastisement in principle. The current law on smacking is compatible with human rights laws.
The UK Supreme Court noted in a recent ruling that “there is an inextricable link between the protection of the family and the protection of fundamental freedoms in liberal democracies.” It went on to say “Different upbringings produce different people” before concluding: “Within limits, families must be left to bring up their children in their own way."
WHAT PROBLEMS WOULD CHANGING THE LAW CREATE?
- Banning smacking will inevitably catch ordinary loving parents and turn them into criminals. The slightest touch could become grounds for an assault charge.
- Police, social workers and others involved in child protection will be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of cases if the law is changed. This will inevitably divert their valuable but overstretched time and resources away from those children who are genuinely at risk of abuse.
- It involves unreasonable state interference in family life and undermines parents.
- Children could be removed from their parents merely on the suspicion of having been smacked.
WHAT EVIDENCE IS THERE FOR THE BENEFITS OF A BAN?
Those in favour of a ban often cite Sweden as a role model. It banned smacking in 1979 and as the first country to do so is a useful case study because there is more data available to assess the claims of anti-smacking campaigners.
They argue that reasonable chastisement teaches children that violence is acceptable. On this basis, we might expect the figures to show lower levels of violence among children after the ban. In fact figures from Sweden show the opposite to be true: child-on-child violence increased by 1,791% between 1984 and 2010.
In his critique of the Swedish attitude to parenting, psychiatrist David Eberhard argues that following the ban parents have become scared to say no to anything.
Studies show that after the ban children became significantly less accepting of any parental rights to discipline them through grounding or other restrictions. In 2000, only 4% of teens felt that their parents had the right to “threaten to forbid something” down from 39% five years earlier.
BUT ISN’T SMACKING A FORM OF ABUSE?
No. Most reasonable people know there is a big difference between child abuse and loving parental discipline.
A parent who gives their three-year-old a light smack to impress upon them the importance of not running out into the road should not be treated as a child abuser.
It is used when verbal warnings and other disciplinary tactics have been ignored or cannot be understood. Children, particularly those aged between two and six, do not tend to assent rationally to what their parents say is good for them.
Those seeking a smacking ban often deliberately muddle smacking with ‘hitting’. With good parents reasonable chastisement will not be done in anger but in a controlled manner and with an accompanying explanation as necessary. Parents use a range of approaches to discipline their children. It is often the case that parents don’t feel the need to smack their child at all, but for most parents smacking is one form of loving discipline among many. Most people regard this as legitimate and reasonable.
Everyone accepts that the State must intervene to protect children who are in danger of abuse. Under the current law, parents who use unreasonable or immoderate physical punishment can already be prosecuted.
WOULD THE PROPOSALS ONLY APPLY TO Scottish RESIDENTS?
No. If the law were to be changed it would also apply to anyone visiting Scotland.