THREE quarters of children in Scotland believe that it is wrong for an adult to hit a child under any circumstances, according to a survey released by Save the Children yesterday.
In the first major report into children's opinions on physical punishment to be conducted in the UK, the charity compiled the views of more than 1300 youngsters across Scotland.
As well as 75% totally opposed to smacking, 94% believe there are better alternatives. They claimed that physical chastisement sets a bad example to children and a smack makes many feel ashamed, scared and unloved.
Researchers for the report, called It Doesn't Sort Anything, surveyed an almost equal number of boys and girls between the ages of six and 17. Even the youngest children made a connection between violence in the home and its wider relationship to violence in society, according to Save the Children.
The children gave their views in confidence, and their names changed.
Jean, 11, said: "Generally I think it would benefit parents to know they had a final option, but I don't know if the country can trust parents not to use hitting as a punishment all the time and not to hit the child too hard."
Katie, seven, said: "Smacking is a punishment but it's wrong to smack and adults are smacking and nobody punishes them." Susan Elsley, the charity's assistant director, said: "Under the law at the moment, it is acceptable to hit a child but not an adult, which is completely unjust. We want all children to feel safe.
"It doesn't work, children don't like it, and parents don't want to hurt their children."
The Scottish Executive is set to pass laws next year clarifying the law on physical punishment. It could make parents liable to prosecution for smacking children under three, using an implement to hit a child of any age, or for slapping a child around the head.
Save the Children believes these proposals do not go far enough and wants a total ban on hitting children. The charity claims the report finally gives children a voice in the debate and supports the case for a ban.
Elizabeth Cutting, the author of the report, said: "We can see clearly now how distressing and humiliating children find the experience.
"Any level of violence can have an intense physical and emotional impact on children."
Maggie Mellon, head of policy at NCH Scotland, a leading children's charity, said that she was unsurprised by the findings of the report and called for children to be better protected by the law.
She said: "We know ourselves from talking to children that they feel smacking is a terrible indignity."
However, Judith Gillespie, development manager at the Scottish Parent Teachers' Council (SPTC), felt that while it was valuable to know the opinions of children, a change in the law could not be made on that basis. Earlier this month the SPTC published a survey of 2500 parents in Scotland which showed 56% were against the executive's plans to change the law on corporal punishment.
See editorial comment below.
In the past week two surveys have been carried out on the same topic, but have produced different results. A poll of parents published last week found that a majority opposed Scottish Executive proposals that could make smacking a child under three a criminal offence. A survey of children, published yesterday, showed that most believed it was wrong for an adult to hit a child. There are no surprises in either finding. It is parents who could end up with a criminal record for hitting their young children. It is children who are on the receiving end of smacking and other acts of violence. Violence against children is wrong. Even the youngest child polled for the second survey made a connection between violence in the home and its relationship to violence in society.
Children who are hit can grow up with problems. They can think, wrongly, that using violence is how you solve problems because it is what happened to them, even if they did not understand why. Rightly, there is widespread support for the executive's proposals to outlaw using an implement to hit a child of any age or slapping a child of any age. The area of contention is the proposed ban on hitting, or smacking, children up to the age of three. Critics believe parents should have the discretion to smack under three-year-olds. Children's charities want an outright ban on smacking, regardless of age. When the new law is finally framed it will need to be clearly defined. Even if it is intended as a deterrent, to send out a message to parents not to smack or otherwise physically abuse children, it will need to be enacted.
There is no point in having a law if it is not used and guilty parents are not prosecuted. If it is to be founded on the principle that adult violence against children is wrong, there should be no age cut-off. If it is wrong it is wrong, full stop. Having an age limit is arbitrary and lacks logic. It could undermine necessary legislation. -Feb 21st