Children's commissioner Tam Baillie calls for smacking ban

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Child on staircaseImage source, Getty Images

Scotland's outgoing children's commissioner has renewed his call for a ban on smacking children.

Tam Baillie told The Herald that the UK was one of only five European countries which do not fully protect children from physical punishment.

And he claimed that even children in Zimbabwe are better protected than those in Scotland.

A spokesman for the Scottish government said it did not believe a smacking ban would be "appropriate or effective".

Under laws in Scotland, 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.

'Tradition of physical punishment'

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

Mr Baillie told the newspaper that his failure to see the law changed was the biggest regret of his eight years as children's commissioner.

His second and final term of office is due to end on 17 May.

He added that Zimbabwe banned the smacking of children in their home last month.

"Zimbabwe is an oppressive regime, seen by much of the Western world as a pariah state - but even children in Zimbabwe get better protection than they do in Scotland," he said.

"The Scottish government has an ambition for Scotland to be the best country in the world to bring up children. How can we claim that as long as we maintain this tradition of physical punishment?"

Image caption,
Tam Baillie's term as Children's Commissioner is due to end in May

Mr Baillie said some politicians privately supported him on the issue but they were afraid of being accused of interfering in family life.

He rejected the argument that a new law could lead to the criminalisation of parents.

"Ireland changed the law and it has not resulted in parents being criminalised or being unable to control their children," he said.

"There has been some evidence of a rise in people seeking help when they are in difficulties. There are other ways of being able to parent your child."

Later that year a group of academics called for a ban in Scotland after finding "compelling" evidence that the practice creates a cycle of violence that carries on into adulthood.

Mr Baillie said the evidence "couldn't be clearer".

"If you introduce equal protection [against assault] there is a corresponding reduction in the physical abuse of children," he said.

Culture change

He added: "People say a smack can protect a child from danger, but if you had an older person with dementia who was putting themselves in danger, because they didn't know better, would the first thing you think of be to hit them, to get that across?

"Of course not. That just wouldn't be acceptable."

He added that he believed a new law could lead to culture change - similar to that experienced following the ban on smoking in public places.

"I think we will end up with parents saying 'why on earth did we tolerate this for so long?'," he said.

A Scottish government spokesman said: "Our child protection improvement programme will ensure every child in Scotland at risk of harm or abuse receives the best possible support and protection.

"We do not support physical punishment and we do not consider it effective.

"We do not, however, support a ban as we do not think that would be appropriate and effective."

He highlighted that an independently chaired review of the child protection system recently found it generally worked well to protect children or young people at risk of harm or who have been harmed and that the government accepted all the recommendations of the review.

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