Together responds to Equal Protection Consultation
Date: 29th January 2019
Category: Equal protection from violence, Family Environment and Alternative Care, Mental health
Together has responded to the Scottish Parliament’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee consultation on the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill.
The Bill was introduced in September 2018 and aims to end the physical punishment of children by parents or carers by removing the legal defence of ‘justifiable assault’. This defence allows parents and carers to physically punish their children as long as they do not hit them around the head, use an implement or shake them. However, it means that children and young people currently have less protection from assault under Scots law than any other group.
Together fully supports children being given equal protection from assault. Our response to the consultation highlights the following main points:
- International evidence of the negative impact of physical punishment is strong and consistent: studies show that physical punishment of children can increase the likelihood of aggressive behaviours, antisocial behaviour, low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and other mental health issues. It also places children at increased risk of more severe abuse and maltreatment
- Children and young people consistently talk about the negative impact of physical punishment: 82% of young people responding to a Scottish Youth Parliament consultation agreed that “all physical assault against children should be illegal”.
- Failure to change the law breaches international human rights obligations: the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is clear that children have the right to the same (if not stronger) protection from violence than adults, and that this should be reflected in the law. The Bill would bring Scotland into line with international standards.
- Scotland is falling behind progress in other countries: 54 countries have now completely prohibited the physical punishment of children, most recently Nepal in September 2018. Scotland’s neighbours have also reformed, or are in the process of reforming their laws. Ireland reformed its law in October 2015, Jersey voted overwhelmingly to change its laws in January 2019, and the Welsh Government has committed to introducing legislation for equal protection before July 2019.
- Culture change: figures show that the use of physical punishment by parents and carers is in decline in the UK. Over 80% of parents surveyed in Scotland agreed that physical punishment is not effective and that they look to alternative parenting strategies. By prohibiting physical punishment, the Bill would therefore reflect and support existing practice, encouraging more parents to discover positive and more effective ways to manage their children’s behaviour. A 2010 review also found that public acceptance of equal protection followed from legal change. Changing the law would promote positive culture change in Scotland and promote public understanding that all violence is wrong.
The current Bill, coming at a time when the Scottish Government has committed to incorporate the principles of the UNCRC into Scots law, is an essential element of a wider move to ensure children’s rights are protected, respected, fulfilled and enforceable.
Together’ response supports the recommendations of the Child Rights and Wellbeing Impact Assessment (CRWIA) completed by Dr Susan Elsley and published in September 2018. These include a recommendation to continue to seek the views of children and young people throughout the stages of the Bill, and a recommendation to conduct a public information and awareness campaign, informed by the views and input of children and young people.