Equally Protected? A review of the evidence on the physical punishment of children

Date: 24th November 2015
Category: Equal protection from violence

A new extensive & systematic research report calls for all physical punishment of children to be prohibited by law in Scotland, amongst other policy recommendations.

Equally Protected? A review of the evidence on the physical punishment of children is a systematic review of the international literature on the physical punishment of children published in the last ten years.

This research project was commissioned by NSPCC Scotland, Children 1st, Barnardo's Scotland and the Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland, with the aim of updating the findings of a previous review on physical punishment published in Northern Ireland in 2008.

The research found strong and consistent evidence from 98 research studies that physical punishment damages children's wellbeing and carries the risk of escalation into physical abuse.

It highlights evidence that physical punishment increases aggression, antisocial behaviour, depression and anxiety in children, which may continue into their adult lives. It also reveals that there is no evidence that a change to the law results in increased criminal proceedings -- but rather that it facilitates widespread culture change.

Scotland is one of a small minority of countries within the European Union, which has not yet committed to a ban on physical punishment. Last month Ireland became the latest country to change the law.

There is increasing recognition that physical punishment constitutes a violation of children's human rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC). Under the UNCRC, all children have the right to a violence-free upbringing, including the right to be protected from all physical punishment. The UNCRC defines corporal or physical punishment as follows:

  • '"Corporal" or "physical" punishment is any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.'

The report makes the following policy recommendations (in line with previous recommendations made in a Northern Ireland research report in 2008):

  1. All physical punishment of children should be prohibited by law. Children should be afforded more, not less, protection from violence than adults.
  2. Legislation should be accompanied by large-scale information and awareness campaigns to inform the population of the merits of positive parenting and the harm caused by physical punishment. These should be aimed at different levels: individuals, communities and the whole population.
  3. It is important to support parents in using positive parenting strategies, through providing information via different channels (GP's, health visitors, schools, mass media), as well as through offering parenting programmes.
  4. Organisations and professionals concerned about child welfare, including teaching, health and social care professionals, as well as charity organisations, need to be galvanised and should work together to develop advocacy and lobbying strategies which call on policymakers for an urgent change in legislation to end all physical punishment of children.

Together welcomes the report and the above recommendations and will continue to work closely with its members to ensure that Scotland takes the lead in the UK and provides equal protection from violence in law for children, as a matter of urgency.

Consultant paediatrician Dr Lucy Reynolds has recorded what she makes of the report and the impact she hopes it will have on policy makers, her colleagues in the medical profession, parents and children themselves.

The report was covered on the following news platforms: