Call for equal protection from violence for children in Scottish criminal law

Date: 23rd June 2014
Category: Equal protection from violence

Bruce Adamson has written a blog outlining the need to give children in Scotland the same protection from assault as adults.

Writing in a personal capacity, Bruce (who currently works at the Scottish Human Rights Commission) reflects that it is shocking to realise that we live in a country that condones violence against children. Despite a growing number of State commitments to ban corporal punishment in all settings, the UK is one of a dwindling number of EU member States which argue that children do not deserve equal protection.

Bruce provides a Scottish context, highlighting that Scots law permits an assault on a child to be justified if it occurs in the context of punishment by a parent or carer; the 'justifiable assault' defence.

Such a defence is summarised by the Council of Europe's Commissioner for human rights as arising from the perception of children as the property of their parents and that "such 'rights' are based on the power of the stronger over the weaker and are upheld by means of violence and humiliation... It is extraordinary that children, whose developmental state and small size is acknowledged to make them particularly vulnerable to physical and psychological injury, should be singled out for less protection from assaults on their fragile bodies, minds and dignity."

The article highlights that the prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment set out in Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights, and the protections for a person's physical integrity as an aspect of the respect for private life in Article 8 are not consistent with the use of parental violence as a punishment for children.

Bruce includes the lessons learned from other countries which show us that public tolerance for smacking drops significantly as a result of changes in the law. He concludes that removing the defence of justified assault for parental punishment from law will give children throughout the Scotland the same protection from assault as adults and give us the chance to catch up with countries across the world that are protecting their children.