‘Call 999 if you see a parent smacking a child’ – Scot Gov

Scots who witness a parent smacking their child should call 999 and “report a crime in progress”, according to new Scottish Government guidance.

Guidance on controversial anti-smacking legislation, due to come into force next month, advises: “If you see someone physically punishing their child you should call 999 to report a crime in progress or if a child or young person is in immediate danger.”

It adds: “You can also call the police on 101 if you think a crime has been committed. Another option is for you to contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 to report a crime anonymously. They’ll pass the information about the crime to the police. Or you can contact your local council if you are concerned about harm to a child from physical punishment.”

The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) Scotland Act was passed last year and comes into effect on 7 November. After this date, all physical punishment of children – even something as mild as a tap on the hand – will be a criminal offence.

Criminalising parents

The Government guidance further explains: “If a parent or carer physically punishes or disciplines their child they can be prosecuted with assault. Under the current law, depending on what happened, the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ may be available to them.”

“The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act 2019 will change the law and remove the ‘reasonable chastisement’ defence from 7 November 2020. This means that all forms of physical punishment of children will be against the law in Scotland”.

This statement conflicts with previous assurances by smacking ban proponents that the smacking ban ‘isn’t about criminalising parents’.

John Finnie MSP, whose private members bill eventually became the Children (Equal Protection) Act, told Radio Scotland: “This isn’t about criminalising anyone. This is about supporting parents”.

Children’s Minister Maree Todd also told the Scottish Parliament: “I assure members that our intention is not to criminalise parents”.

Be Reasonable comment

Dr Ashley Frawley, a sociologist and spokesperson for Be Reasonable, commented:

“Supporters of the smacking ban, including the Scottish Government, constantly claimed that it is ‘not about criminalising parents’. Yet here we have government guidance encouraging the reporting of smacking as a ‘crime’ and confirming that parents can be ‘prosecuted’. This confirms what we’ve been saying from day one – the smacking ban will turn ordinary, decent mums and dads into criminals.

“Parents and carers in Scotland should be outraged at the dishonesty of the political class. A smacking ban was completely unnecessary. There is no evidence that light physical discipline harms children, and current laws already criminalise abuse. The ban is nothing but a virtue signalling exercise by out-of-touch elites. They may feel good about themselves just now but ordinary mums and dads will pay a heavy price.

“Evidence from other countries shows that those most affected by lowering the bar for intervention of the authorities into family life are BAME communities and immigrants, simply because they are more likely to be in contact with services. In Norway the child of an immigrant mother is four times more likely to be removed. Virtue signalling over smacking won’t count for anything when these scenarios start occurring in Scotland.”

Dr Frawley added:

“The idea that Scots should inform on one another for smacking is chilling. Curtain twitching neighbours will have a field day. As with the hated named person policy, this shows that the Scottish Government has complete contempt for parents. Ministers simply don’t trust parents to bring up their children. Instead, they’re using the criminal law – the strong arm of the police and other state agencies – to ensure SNP-approved parenting outcomes. Families must be utterly sick of it.”

Public opinion

ComRes polling of Scottish adults carried out ahead of a change in the law found huge public opposition to the smacking ban:

74% of adults said smacking should not be a criminal offence; 75% said parents and guardians should decide whether or not to smack their children; 78% expressed concern that a ban would flood the police and social workers with trivial reports, frustrating attempts to tackle genuine abuse.

Detailed analysis of a Holyrood consultation on the smacking bill also found majority opposition to the plan:

There were 437 submissions to the EHRiC’s consultation on John Finnie’s Bill. A total of 387 submissions (89%) were opposed, whilst 48 submissions (11%) were in favour.

There were 390 submissions by members of the public. Of this number, 378 (97%) were opposed to the Bill and 11 (3%) were in favour.

A significant number of respondents (101) stated that they are parents. A total of 99 parents were against the proposal, one was for it, and one didn’t come down either way.