In a landmark decision of international interest, the Scottish parliament voted 84 to 29 to ban all physical punishment in the country – including the spanking of children by parents. Scotland is now the first country in the United Kingdom to do so, though Sweden was the first nation in the world to outlaw spanking in the private home in 1979. Member of Scottish Parliament John Finnie, a former police officer, introduced the legislation with support from liberal counterparts and several children’s charities.
The ban was opposed by Scottish conservatives, who believe the move criminalizes good parents for reasonable chastisement of reckless or harmful behavior. But Finnie stuck to his message, explaining that spanking or slapping gives children the mistaken idea that “might is right” and that this ban sends a positive enforcement message that “violence is never acceptable in any setting.”
The ban appears to be in direct conflict with the wishes of Scots, who, when recently polled, took offense at the government denying a parent’s right to “reasonable chastisement” of an errant child. According to the Panelbase survey of 1,000 people commissioned by The Sunday Times Scotland, only 30% said they support the measure, while 53% believe spanking should be allowed.
Defining Reasonable Chastisement
A 2015 study of instances of child “corporal” or “physical” punishment showed that spanking was much more prevalent in the United Kingdom than other western nations like the United States and Canada.
For years, Scottish courts have the final say in deciding if “reasonable chastisement” was used by a parent or guardian. In most cases, the court reviews the nature of the actions that resulted in the spanking, the duration of the punishment, and the age of the child. In most cases, children in front of the courts were from ages three to seven. Parents – until now – have been free to spank their children on the body, but slaps or strikes to the head, shaking, and the uses of belts or wooden spoons were defined as assault. Smacking or spanking of children was already illegal in schools and educational settings.
This legislation provides children the same protections as adults from legally defined assault – including hitting, throwing, scratching, pinching, biting, scalding, hair-pulling and ear boxing.
The use of physical punishment has declined in years due to a shift in the public’s attitude on how to correct a misbehaving child. Regardless, the new law in Scotland is being discussed across the globe, and the world waits to see if other nations follow suit or will give a wide berth for the parents to dish out the types of punishment they deem necessary.