Views On Child Chastisement Legislation
Green MSP John Finnie has created a proposal for a Bill ‘to give children equal protection from assault by prohibiting the physical punishment of children by parents and others caring for or in charge of children’. As a result of this Bill, the Scottish Government has confirmed the smacking of children will be banned in Scotland and the current defence of ‘justifiable assault’ in Scottish Law, allowing parents physical chastisement as a punishment, will be removed.
There are numerous studies and theories of the negative effects of physical punishment of children and a plethora of charities and do-gooders are backing the Bill. However, whilst the theory is wonderful – children will have the same legal protection from being physically struck as parents or other adults do – how can this be policed or monitored fairly for children, adults or those caring for children? How will children know they have this ‘new’ protection, once the Scottish government has steam rolled this new legislation? Where will the line be drawn? What options will there be for parents who have children so unruly and out of control that physical chastisement is the only incentive or punishment? How will children understand the difference between play fighting, being physically manhandled (for their safety perhaps?) or physical punishments? With the eagerness of enforcing new legislation, once it comes into effect, will this not unnecessarily open the door for bitter or angry children to ‘point the finger’ at parents, carers or otherwise? Will there be any protection for parents in the enforcement of this legislation?
Mr Finnie does not address how it will be possible to see the effect or use of this soon to be Scottish legislation and even goes on to say towards the end of his Bill that ‘While there is some evidence that changes to the law in countries that no longer permit the use of physical punishment has led to increases in reporting of alleged offences, there is no evidence that this has led to significant numbers of prosecutions or parents being convicted of an offence.’ This begs the question of ‘what is the point of the change in the law in the first place?’ Was there really an issue of excessive physical punishment before the legislation? Unlikely.
The Bill does not provide answers for alternatives for parents but merely refers to positive platitudes of ‘For those who currently do use physical punishment, I fully expect that support and advice will be made available to them via existing routes.’ Who will provide such information or support? Support of this kind would need to consist of more than a pamphlet with generic ideologies of ‘how to be a better parent’ and a website address.
The Bill is all very flowery and says the right things to invoke minority groups and charities providing support but this Bill is over reaching, unreasonably restricts parents and will potentially strain the current over worked police and social services when their time and help is required for more serious situations.
This blog post was written by Michelle Mooney, LLB, currently studying the Diploma in Professional Legal PracticeView all →