Includem’s Policy Manager, Michael Shanks, reflects on the proposed Bill to make physical punishment of children illegal. Includem wholeheartedly supports this proposal.
This blog first appeared in the Huffington Post
It is illegal to assault an adult. It is perfectly legal to assault a child in the name of physical punishment.
When you put those two statements side by side it seems bizarre that we are even having a discussion about changing the common law on assault to make physical punishment of children illegal. But it’s more than bizarre that this loophole remains – it’s an affront to the modern, civilised society Scotland claims to be.
Now, thanks to Green MSP John Finnie, the Scottish Parliament has a chance to legislate to close that loophole. To right the ongoing wrong. The Scottish Government should back it.
The evidence on the long term impact of physical punishment is growing. There is an immediate link to childhood aggression and negative behaviour – what’s been called the ‘vicious cycle of cascading behaviour’. Far from improving behaviour, it in fact escalates negative behaviour, and particularly with violence, it exacerbates rather than diminishes underlying factors. In short, it doesn’t work.
There’s growing agreement from parents that it doesn’t work too. Studies commissioned by the NSPCC in 1998 and 2009 show a significant decline in the use of physical punishment – from 61% of young adults who had been smacked as a child in 1998 to 43% in 2009. It’s fair to assume that number continues to fall.
But the effectiveness or not of assaulting children with the aim of better behaviour is hardly the most important justification in outlawing it.
There’s evidence of attachment difficulties in later life, of difficulties in building and maintaining relationships, of increased risk of drug and alcohol misuse and of increased violent behaviour in adulthood. Those are just some of the long-term consequences.
Fundamentally this change is about children being seen as equal citizens in Scotland – with the same rights and the same protections. Changing the law in the way John Finnie proposes makes a serious statement about how Scotland views children’s rights and says without any ambiguity that violence against children – no matter who it is by – is completely unacceptable.
The Scottish Government has an ambitious and progressive approach for children and young people, driven by a belief that Scotland can be the best place to grow up. It states: “every child has the right to be, and feel, safe”. Now is the time to put those principles into practice, and back this proposal so that children and young people are finally given the same protection of the law that the rest of us have.