Commissioner criticises Scotland’s attitude to smacking

  • 16 July 2017
  • From the section Scotland

Bruce Adamson Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland
Image caption Bruce Adamson said Scotland had faced “consistent international condemnation” on the issue

Scotland’s new children’s commissioner has criticised the country’s attitude towards smacking.

Bruce Adamson said the view that it was acceptable for a parent or carer “to assault a child for the purpose of physical punishment” was “untenable in international human rights terms”.

A consultation is under way on a Green MSP’s proposals to ban parents from smacking their children.

The Scottish government has said it has no plans to introduce legislation.

However, it added it did not support physical punishment of children.

In an extended interview with BBC Radio’s Good Morning Scotland programme, Mr Adamson said that Scotland had been “routinely condemned” over equal protection of children from violence by “all of the UN human rights committees, at the Council of Europe and the EU”.

He said: “There are some things where Scotland is doing very, very well and there are some things that are absolutely shocking, where Scotland is coming last in the world.

“We still in Scotland say that it’s okay for a parent or carer to assault a child for the purpose of physical punishment, and that that can be justified, which is just untenable in international human rights terms.

“I think it really goes against the basic values that we hold in Scotland in terms of human dignity and respect for children.

“So it is a very strange position we are in, where the government isn’t supporting the change in the law at this stage, despite consistent international condemnation.”


Law on smacking

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland there is no ban on smacking and parents are allowed to use “reasonable chastisement”.

However, hitting a child so hard that it leaves a mark, or causes bruising, swelling cuts, grazes or scratches could result in criminal charges.

Under Scottish law, parents can claim a defence of “justifiable assault” when punishing their child.

But section 51 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 prohibits the use of an “implement” in the punishment.

It also bans parents from shaking their child or striking them on their head.


The public consultation on smacking was launched in May, ahead of a proposed member’s bill in the Scottish Parliament which aims to give children equal protection from assault.

The move by Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie has been backed by a number of children’s charities, as well as the Association of Scottish Police Superintendents.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Under Scottish law, parents can claim a defence of “justifiable assault” when punishing their child

A Scottish government spokesman said: “The Scottish government does not support physical punishment of children.

“We have no plans to introduce legislation in the area, but we will consider carefully the member’s bill that we understand John Finnie intends to introduce.

“We continue to support positive parenting and we recognise that physical punishment can set children the wrong example and is not an effective way to teach children discipline.”

In April, Scotland’s outgoing children’s commissioner, Tam Baillie, renewed his call for a ban on smacking children.

Mr Baillie said the UK was one of only five European countries which did not fully protect children from physical punishment.

He also claimed that even children in Zimbabwe were better protected than those in Scotland.

You can hear the full interview with the new Commissioner for Children and Young People, Mr Adamson, on BBC Radio Scotland at 08:30 on Sunday and later on the BBC iplayer.

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