Bid to criminalise parents who smack their children unveiled in Scotland

A law criminalising parents for smacking their children is being proposed in Scotland.

Green MSP John Finnie is leading the proposal, which follows a push for a similar change in Wales.

Currently the Scottish Government opposes criminalising parents for smacking their children.

Parents are experts

Speaking to the BBC, Anne Atkins, commentator and author of Child Rearing for Fun, said it was unreasonable to take decisions about discipline away from parents and give it to politicians.

Atkins said smacking was simply one of a number of “discipline and love” options available, and: “The expert in the child is the parent, not the politician”.

“Woe betide us when we step between the parent and the child, because it is always damaging for the child”, she added.


Atkins also challenged BBC Radio Scotland host Stephen Jardine more than once for conflating ‘assualt’ and ‘violence’ with ‘smacking’.

She made clear that they are completely different, and that “hurting a child as a violent act, of course is illegal”.

Atkins was speaking as part of a phone-in where callers also expressed their opposition to criminalisation.

In a statement, the Scottish Government said it has “no plans to introduce legislation in the area” but does not support “physical punishment of children” and will consider Finnie’s Bill.

Social work burden

The MSP acknowledges that parents will be criminalised, but claims it will not be in “significant numbers”.

In a consultation document released with the Bill, he also recognised that, if smacking was banned, police and social workers would come under increased pressure.

But he claimed it would help make Scotland be seen as “the best place in the world for children to grow up”.

Welsh bid

In Scotland it is currently illegal to discipline by shaking, to use any implement, or direct any smack at the head.

In England and Wales, the Children Act 2004 restricts the defence of “reasonable chastisement” for parental smacking of children. Under the law, any smack that leaves more than a temporary mark may be illegal.

However, in 2016 Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones indicated his intention to change the law.

What’s the theology around smacking?