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Smacking ban Scotland: parents could unknowingly break the law

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From tomorrow, 7th November 2020, it will be illegal to smack your child in Scotland, with the defence of “reasonable chastisement” removed from the law.  Anyone who hits a child will be treated as having committed an assault, which could lead to a criminal prosecution.

The Law Society of Scotland has raised concerns that the public are not aware of this change, and the Government have been criticised for failing to publicise it.

When it was ratified, the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act 2019 divided opinion, with polls suggesting the majority of Scots were against it. Scotland has led the way in the UK to become the first country here to ban smacking, quickly followed by Wales, however we’re hardly trailblazers in the Western world – physical punishment of children has been illegal in Sweden since 1979, for example. Smacking is banned in 36 European counties, with more likely to follow suit.

Up until now, a parent who hit their child could rely on the defence of “reasonable chastisement”.  That meant you could hit your child as a form of discipline if they were misbehaving.  The defence was limited – the law did not allow you to smack a child on their head, kick, scratch, bite or shake them.

Those who support (limited) parental freedom to smack their children generally rely on their own experience and say “it didn’t do me any harm” but there is, in fact, considerable evidence that hitting children does harm them – it impacts upon not only their physical wellbeing but their emotional wellbeing too, and teaches children that violent behaviour is acceptable.  Not only that, but there is very little in the way of evidence to support the notion that smacking a child is effective in terms of altering their behaviour.

There has been a clear cultural shift in recent times from the view that smacking children is acceptable, and the new legislation is introduced with the aim of continuing to change attitudes. While the change in law is welcome, there are legitimate concerns that the public are unaware of it and that parents might unknowingly break the law from tomorrow.

The Law Society of Scotland thinks more needs to be done in terms of raising awareness: “It’s vital that every generation, from child to grandparent, is aware of this significant legal and cultural change and we believe the new legislation should be accompanied by a wide-scale public education and awareness campaign.”

The Scottish Government disagrees that more needs to be done, with a spokesperson commenting:

“We have published information on our website about the Act and have worked with stakeholders to share advice about this change with a wide audience.  In line with our commitment to support parents as part of our work on this Act, we have also published information about positive parenting techniques on ParentClub.”

As well as raising awareness, it is hoped that the Government will introduce resources to help parents identify alternatives to smacking and teach self-discipline at times of fear and frustration.  That is particularly pertinent given that this legislation is being introduced during a unprecedented time when parents are under significant pressure and facing uncertainty, ever changing government restrictions, and financial hardship.

For additional resources, advice and tips on managing your child’s behaviour, click here.

If you are affected by this issue and would like to discuss your situation with a member of our Family Law team, please get in touch.

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