Equal Protection Bill passes at Stage 2

Date: 24th June 2019
Category: Special protection measures, Family Environment and Alternative Care, Protection from abuse or neglect, Basic Health and Welfare

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Together is pleased to see the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill pass at Stage 2 in the Scottish Parliament on 20th June 2019.

The Bill aims to end the physical punishment of children by parents or carers by removing the legal defence of ‘justifiable assault’. The defence means that children and young people currently have less protection from assault under Scots law than adults.

Together fully supports children being given equal protection from assault. Our previous consultation response highlights the following main points:

  1. 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
  2. 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”.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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 UNCRC into Scots law, is an essential element of a wider move to ensure children’s rights are protected, respected, fulfilled and enforceable.