13 Sep 2018, Meredith Jones Russell
The Association of Educational Psychologists (AEP) proposed a motion at the TUC Congress in Manchester yesterday calling for a full ban on corporal punishment in the UK, after the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) Scotland Bill was lodged in the Scottish Parliament last week by Green MSP John Finnie.
Addressing the annual TUC Congress, John Drewicz, member of the AEP’s national executive committee, said, ‘Smacking is harmful to a child’s mental health, it models aggressive behaviour and it says to them that it is OK to use violence. There are many other more effective ways of teaching children right from wrong than by hitting them.
‘Sixty countries already have full bans, including Sweden, Ireland, Spain, Germany and Portugal, and it is time to make violence against children illegal in the UK in all settings, including the home.’
UK law currently allows the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ for parents who physically punish their child, which the AEP says is difficult to disprove.
If the bill to remove the defence of 'justifiable assault' in Scottish law is passed, it would make Scotland the first country in the UK to ban parents from smacking their children.
The Bill, which was proposed and lodged in Scottish Parliament by Highlands and Island MSP John Finnie, is backed 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.
Commenting on the move, Professor Steve Turner, officer for Scotland for the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH) said, ‘I strongly believe it not acceptable to hit a child. Physical punishment can teach a child that physical violence is part of a normal healthy lifestyle. It can increase the likelihood of that child going on to be aggressive in later life themselves, leading to a vicious cycle of physical violence, bred through generations. Physical punishment is also linked to an increase in a child’s later risk for anxiety, depression and problems with self-esteem.
‘As a children’s doctor, there is nothing I want more than for children to be protected, as adults currently are, from assault. Physical punishment is counterproductive and cruel so the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) Bill is very much welcome. With this bill, we have the opportunity to be leaders in child protection, and to show our children the respect they deserve.
‘I now call on our neighbours in England and Northern Ireland to catch up and provide all children, regardless of where they live in the UK, with the same level of protection.’
Wales is due to follow in the footsteps of Scotland.
The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has announced the Welsh Government will introduce a Bill to remove the defence of reasonable punishment between September 2018 and July 2019
The Welsh Government launched a consultation on banning smacking earlier this year which found that 81 per cent of parents thought it was never acceptable to smack a child.
Minister for Children, Huw Irranca-Davies, said, ‘This is exactly the culture change we want to see happening in Wales. While it’s great to see that 81 per cent of parents think it’s never acceptable to smack a child, as a government, we want to ensure every parent recognises that it’s never acceptable to smack a child. This is why we intend to bring forward legislation to make it clear that physically punishing a child is no longer acceptable in Wales.’
England and Northern Ireland
In England and Northern Ireland, parents are allowed to use 'reasonable chastisement'. There are no plans to criminalise smacking.
However, a survey commissioned by the Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People last year found public support for such a move, with 63 per cent of those that took part backing a move to protect children from physical punishment, rising to 77 per cent among 18-24-year-olds.
Koulla Yiasouma, Northern Ireland Commissioner for Children and Young People, said, ‘The children of Scotland are one step closer to being protected from assault.
‘Assaults on children have never been right, and it is certainly not right now that protection from assault as a child may depend on where you live in the UK.
‘A survey I commissioned last year showed the majority of people in Northern Ireland support children being legally protected from hitting, smacking and assault.
‘I am confident that while Scotland may be the first in the UK to ban this, it most certainly won’t be the last.
‘I will be doing everything in my power to make sure Northern Ireland follows suit in due course and combines legal reform with improved support for parents.’
England's children's commissioner Anne Longfield called the current legislation 'outdated'.
She said, 'The current legislation in England, which grants an exemption from the law on common assault to allow the physical punishment of children, is outdated. It should be updated to reflect what the vast majority of parents believe: that hitting children is wrong and that there are better and more effective ways of disciplining children and encouraging positive behaviour.’