Holyrood smacking ban is nanny-statism dressed up as children’s rights

Holyrood smacking ban is nanny-statism dressed up as children’s rights

by Jamie Gillies
article from Thursday 28, February, 2019

THE SNP GOVERNMENT has pledged to support a Bill to ban parental smacking, brought forward by Green MSP John Finnie.

His legislation, the virtuous-sounding Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill, is being considered by the Scottish Parliament’s Equality and Human Rights Committee (EHRiC), which recently concluded its public call for evidence. The Bill has attracted cross-party support and last year Nicola Sturgeon announced that the SNP Government would “ensure” it becomes law.

As noble as the Bill sounds, there is no evidence that this law is needed, or that it will actually help children. Instead, it typifies a growing trend towards patronising and unwarranted state interference in family life. Practically speaking, Finnie’s Bill would remove the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ from law. Finnie claims that this legal provision allows parents and guardians to “assault” their children without being punished, giving children less protection than adults.

This argument could not be more false. The reasonable chastisement defence simply ensures that parents who use light physical discipline – like a tap on the hand or a smack on the bottom – will not be prosecuted.

The defence is clear and unambiguous. It expressly prohibits “blows to the head; shaking; and the use of an implement, such as a belt, slipper or cane”, stating: “Where these are used, then the punishment cannot be found to be justifiable”.

Dispensing with the reasonable chastisement defence would only confuse the law and make allphysical contact for the purpose of discipline potentially criminal.

The lobby behind John Finnie includes organisations like Barnardos and the NSPCC. These groups have long been informed by liberal academics who contend that even the lightest physical discipline is harmful to a child. The evidence for this is, however, far from conclusive.

Child developmental psychologist Robert Larzelere, who has more than three decades of research on smacking to call upon, contends that “there is no sound causal evidence against smacking”. In his submission to the EHRiC consultation he argued that smacking bans do “more harm than good”. Professor Tommy MacKay, former President of the British Psychological Society, also opposed the Bill in his response, arguing that it “will not in fact enhance the protection of children” and “will have a number of negative consequences”.

There are also more practical concerns. In its submission to the consultation, Police Scotland states that “the repeal [of reasonable chastisement] will result in an increase in reporting. This will have potential cost/resource implications for Police Scotland and partner agencies”.

It adds: “On occasions, it may be assessed that the harm is not, nor is likely to be significant following a report of what is commonly referred to as ‘chastisement’. Notwithstanding, there would be a duty on the Police to investigate any assault on a child and, if a sufficiency of evidence exists, report the circumstances to Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service.” In other words, the police will have to invest valuable time and resources to pursue parents who are accusedof smacking their children. Is this really the best use of their time?

In the UK, the law has always reflected the principle that parents, rather than the state, should have primary responsibility for their children. Intervention by the police and the courts in family matters should be a last resort. The smacking Bill ignores this historic convention and imposes the parenting preferences of certain politicians upon the entire electorate. It is nanny-statism dressed up as children’s rights.

Dr Stuart Waiton, a sociologist at Abertay University, states that “criminalising smacking degrades millions of loving parents who continue to use a light smack to discipline their children”. Doing so encourages an “environment of insecurity and suspicion, where parents become anxious about the potential surveillance of their private lives, especially from teachers and other professionals who will be educated to understand that smacking is criminal, a form of abuse that needs to be addressed”.

Parents and professionals across the political spectrum oppose Finnie’s proposal. This is reflected in polling of the public which consistently shows that around three-quarters of Scottish adults do not want a smacking ban.

As the Bill is scrutinised by MSPs in the coming weeks, it is vital that these people make their voices heard. Parents and practitioners who would be affected by this law change should write to the Equality and Human Rights Committee and their MSP.

Tell them it’s patronising. Tell them it’s unnecessary. Tell them it won’t help genuinely at-risk children. There’s still time to stop this cynical ban.

Jamie Gillies is spokesman for Be Reasonable Scotland. Join the campaign on Facebook and Twitter and visit the website at www.bereasonablescotland.org

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