In Depth

Countries where smacking children is illegal

Scottish Parliament appproves bill outlawing all physical punishment

Scotland has become the first UK country to ban parents from smacking their children.

The bill to outlaw physical punishment of children, introduced by Scottish Greens MSP John Finnie, sailed through Holyrood on Thursday evening, with 84 MSPs voting in favour and 29 against.

Finnie, a former police officer, has argued that “physical violence has no place in 21st century Scotland”.

“It is staggering that our smallest and most vulnerable citizens are the only people who do not currently have this protection, and now is the time to rectify that,” he said.

He added: “The international evidence tells us that it can have serious adverse impacts on children, and that it is not effective.”

Previously, under Scots law, “a person accused of assaulting a child [could] claim a defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ or ‘justifiable assault’”, the BBC reports.

“In practice, this generally means parents are allowed to smack their children on the body - but blows to the head, shaking or the use of an implement are illegal,” the broadcaster continues.

In the UK, corporal punishment by a parent or guardian remains legal in all four home nations, albeit subject to restrictions banning excessive force.

In England and Wales, this is commonly interpreted by courts to mean physical violence leaving a mark such as a bruise, swelling or redness, or otherwise severe enough to classify as actual or grievous bodily harm.

Despite pressure from human rights groups and child development specialists, most Britons appear to support a parent’s right to use physical discipline. In July 2017, a YouGov poll of more than 4,000 Brits found that only 22% would support a ban on smacking, compared to 59% who were opposed.

While the vast majority of countries around the world have codified laws banning child abuse, including that committed by a parent or guardian under the guise of “discipline”, more moderate physical chastisement occupies a grey area in most of the world.

Until recent decades, corporal punishment was not considered taboo even in otherwise progressive countries. Caning was not outlawed in British state schools until 1987, and remained legal in private schools until 1997.

But while the trend in the developed world continues to move towards non-physical forms of discipline, only a minority of countries have completely outlawed corporal punishment.

According to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, 57 states around the world have made smacking children illegal in any setting, including the home. Corporal punishment is illegal in schools in a total of 132 countries.

In 1979, Sweden became the first country in the world to explicitly ban corporal punishment of children.

The ban sparked a fierce debate about parental rights and state responsibilities and “made headlines all over the world”, says Radio Sweden. One of the station’s correspondents at the time “remembers reading headlines like ‘The Swedes have gone mad’ and ‘The government takes charge of parenting in Sweden’”.

Other early adopters include Norway, Finland, Austria and Denmark. In the 1990s, a slew of European countries outlawed the practice, while in 2000 Israel became the first non-European state to ban smacking.

In recent years, countries in Africa, Latin America and Asia have joined the growing list of nations where corporal punishment is banned. South Africa, the most recent, banned smacking in September 2019.

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