Pressure is mounting on the British government to introduce a nationwide ban on spanking after the Scottish Executive announced plans to outlaw all forms of physical punishment of children under 3-years-old.
Children’s rights campaigners welcomed the Scottish proposals, which would also make it illegal to hit anyone aged from 3 to 16 on the head, shake them or strike them with an implement. The Scottish proposals, which will be detailed in a White Paper to be published next month, will outlaw spanking in nurseries and playgroups and by registered childminders.
Scottish ministers last night made clear that parents would retain the right to “reasonably chastise” their children and that the change in the law was aimed at introducing greater restrictions on what is allowed. Jim Wallace, the Executive’s Justice Minister, said that courts would have to decide on the nature and context of the punishment, its duration and frequency and its physical and mental effects.
“Up to the age of three, it is very doubtful if a child would understand why he or she is being smacked," Wallace said. "We want to protect children from punishment that is degrading or harsh and completely inappropriate in a civilized society.”
It is essential, he continued, to recognize the rights of parents to bring up their children as they see fit without interference from the state at the same time as protecting children.
The proposals, which could be passed by the end of 2002, would mean that parents in Scotland would face a different set of laws from parents in England. Prime Minister Tony Blair and senior ministers are said to oppose anti-spanking laws, despite campaigning by child welfare groups.
The law in Scotland already protects children from “unreasonable chastisement,” which can be classified as serious assault leading to a prosecution in the High Court in Scotland. However, ministers in Scotland believe further clarification of the law is required.
The law in England, dating from 1860, allows “reasonable chastisement” by parents, although this was challenged in 1998 when judges in the European Court of Human Rights unanimously ruled that that a 9-year-old British boy beaten by his stepfather with a garden cane had had his human rights violated. The Department of Health has issued a consultation paper on the issue but is still deciding how to respond.
New rules published earlier this year permit registered childminders in England to spank children in their care, providing they have the consent of the child’s parents.