A ban on using corporal punishment to discipline children today becomes law in Scotland, the first part of the UK to make smacking children a criminal offence.
Scotland has its own legal system, separate from that of England and Wales, although Wales is expected to follow suit in 2022.
The change, an initiative by Green MSP John Finnie, removes from the law the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’.
The defence of self defence remains, but the Scottish parliament could no longer accept that child-smacking was covered by that defence.
According to the Scottish wing of the National Society for the Protection of Children (NSPCC), “This means that all forms of physical punishment of children will be against the law in Scotland, and children will have with the same legal protection from assault as adults,” the society posted on its website.
“The Act does not introduce a new offence. It just removes a defence to the existing offence of assault.”
“As I have progressed my campaign over the last four years, it has been noticeable just how many people believed that striking a child was already outlawed,” Finnie said as the change came into force. “I am pleased that this will now be the case.”
Maree Todd (SNP), minister in the Scottish government for children, welcomed the change.
“I’m very pleased that Scotland has become the first part of the UK to legislate to ensure that children, without exception, have the same protection from assault as adults,” she said.
“This outdated defence has no place in a modern Scotland. It can never be reasonable to strike a child.”
NSPCC Scotland policy affairs officer Joanna Barrett commented, “This law sets out in clear terms that physical punishment should no longer be part of childhood in Scotland, and it marks a momentous step in making it a country where children’s rights are truly recognised, respected and fulfilled.”
The group Be Reasonable Scotland opposed the change to the law, arguing it would see many parents accused of abuse.
“In the years ahead, loving parents who have had no contact with the authorities previously and who present no risk to their children will face stressful intervention, blacklisting on police databases and even criminal records for smacking,” a spokesperson said.
“The majority of Scots see this as an injustice, not a positive change.”