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Social Workers Union and Association of Educational Psychologists congratulate Scotland on the implementation of the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) Act

The new Scottish Act removes any doubt that physical discipline is not acceptable and can only assist social workers when doing multifaceted assessments of families

Saturday 7 November saw the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) Act 2019 coming into force in Scotland. The legislation, which gives children the same protection from assault as adults, was passed by the Scottish parliament last year.

A law banning people in Wales from smacking their children was passed by the Welsh Assembly in January 2020. It is the second part of the UK to do so, after Scotland. The ban in Wales will begin in 2022.

Speaking about the new legislation John McGowan, General Secretary of Social Workers Union (SWU), said: “Physical punishment has no place in 21st century Scotland. The international evidence tells us that it can have serious impacts on children, and that it is not effective.

“We will be joining more than 50 other countries around the world in taking measures to protect the most vulnerable members of society. We are already an outlier in Europe, where most countries have legislated against corporal punishment in line with Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, with its call for equal protection from assault.”

Speaking about the issue in England and Northern Ireland, McGowan said: “Talk of a ‘smacking ban’ is misleading because no one is proposing to create a new offence. All that needs to happen is for the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ in the Children Act 2004 to be stripped out. Then, assaults on children would be treated in the same way as assaults on anyone else.”

The new Scottish Act removes any doubt that physical discipline is not acceptable and can only assist social workers when doing multifaceted assessments of families, even if it is considered by the parent as reasonable for the chastisement of their child. Conduct covered includes: hitting such as smacking, slapping and smacking with a hand or an implement; kicking; shaking or throwing children; scratching; pinching; biting; pulling hair or boxing ears; forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions; burning; scalding; or forced ingestion.

SWU accepts that the legislation removes the defence of reasonable chastisement and is introduced with the aim of changing attitudes. It is hoped, therefore, that further voluntary resources will be available to support parents in utilising alternatives to 'smacking' where needed.

Kate Fallon, General Secretary of The Association of Educational Psychologists, said: “Smacking is harmful to a child’s mental health, it models aggressive behaviour, and it says to them that it is ok to use violence. Corporal punishment leads to a lower quality of the parent and child relationship, poorer mental health in childhood and adulthood, higher levels of aggression and anti-social behaviour and an increased risk of being a victim of physical abuse.

“We believe that there are many other more effective ways of teaching children right from wrong than by hitting them. More than 50 countries already have full bans, including Sweden, Ireland, Spain, Germany and Portugal, and it is time to make violence against children illegal in the UK in all settings, including the home. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which was signed by the UK in 1990, and requires the prohibition of all corporal punishment in all settings. This is a welcome change in Scotland and the AEP will continue to campaign for it to be banned in the whole of the UK.”