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The Smacking Ban is a Slap In the Face to Parents

Is the ban an overreach of the state or does it offer more protection for children?

by Jack Sinclair

In 2002 the justice minister for the Scottish Government Jim Wallace proposed legislation to criminalise the smacking of children. The ban was met with a mix of responses from opposition parties and pressure groups. Leading the charge against the bill was the SNP, expressing concerns that the legislation focused on criminalising parents rather than educating them. Conservative party spokesperson branded Mr Wallace, “the nation’s nanny” and implied that the bill was authoritarian.  


Sixteen years later John Finnie an MSP for the Scottish Green Party has proposed a bill which would see parents criminalised for using “light physical force" to discipline a child. This time around the bill has cross-party support. The bill is set to pass when Holyrood vote on the matter and parties will not be imposing a whip on members.


The plans in 2002 under the Labour-led administration were dropped after the law was deemed to be “unworkable”. A committee of MSP’s concluded that the bill would merely lead to an increase in prosecution of parents and do no real good for the children. They, of course, agreed that more needed to be done to drive parents away from physically disciplining their children.


It was deemed, however, criminalising a light smack on the hand was in no way worthy of criminal charges being brought against a loving parent. Politicians must explain what has changed, why this legislation is now enforceable and why it is now acceptable for the State to tell parents how they must raise their children.

The current law states parents can use "reasonable chastisement”. This essentially means a small slap when punishing their children, nothing that leaves a mark.

Striking a child with an implement, hitting on the head and shaking them are already criminal offences. I think we can all agree that beating a child is never acceptable. It is reassuring to know exactly where the legal line in the sand is. Whilst the law is the same in all parts of the United Kingdom, Scotland would be the first to ban all physical punishment of children.


But, the responsibility of bringing up a child should lie with the parent. The State should not be involved in the upbringing of a child. Parents shouldn’t feel restricted or constrained by the State.

It is the golden rule of parenting to set clear boundaries, and citizens must do the same with the State. The courts must only be used as a last resort to protect the child.

The current legislation already protects the child adequately from abuse while still allowing parental freedom. A simple slap on the wrist in the right context is not unreasonable and does not equate to criminal charges.Why was police time pursuing loving parents? Police time and budgets are stretched enough as it is.


In all fairness, physical punishment is often not the best way to discipline a child. Research shows that many children respond better to other forms of punishment. However, the underlying tone of the legislation is rather sinister. The State has invaded family life over the course of the SNP’s executive rule, introducing countless policies that restrict family life. It might sound positive, but the smacking does far more harm than good.

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