Smacking ban: what is Scotland’s new law on physical discipline and punishment of children - and when does it come into effect?

A ban against smacking children will come into force in Scotland under new legislation

The change means children will be given the same legal protection from assault as adults, with the legislation removing the defense of “reasonable chastisement”.

When will the ban take effect?

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The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act 2019 was brought forward by Scottish Greens MSP John Finnie and was passed by the Scotitish Parliament in October 2019.

The law will officially take effect from Saturday 7 November
The law will officially take effect from Saturday 7 November

The law will officially take effect from Saturday 7 November, making Scotland the first part of the UK to ban parents from smacking their children.

Scotland’s Children’s Minister Maree Todd said: “I’m very pleased that Scotland has become the first part of the UK to legislate to ensure that children, without exception, have the same protection from assault as adults.

“This outdated defence has no place in modern Scotland. It can never be reasonable to strike a child.

“The removal of this defence reaffirms that we want this country to be the best place in the world for children to grow up so that they feel loved, safe, respected and can realise their full potential.”

What is the smacking ban?

The new legislation ends the defence of reasonable chastisement, meaning parents who are found to have used any form of physical punishment on their children could face prosecution.

This means that children will now have the exact same protection from assault as adults.

The Act also aims to drive behaviour change in Scotland, which the original Bill said was “currently out of step with most of Europe and many other parts of the world on this issue”.

The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill passed by a vote of 84 for, and 29 against.

The Scottish Government worked in partnership with various organisations and children’s charities, Social Work Scotland and Police Scotland for the implementation of the Act.


What is reasonable chastisement?

Reasonable chastisement refers to the defense of a charge of assault.

Before the new Act, the common law in Scotland allowed parents to use some forms of physical punishment. This meant that if a parent struck a child, and if it was reasonable punishment, then it would not be considered assault.

Courts would determine whether the punishment was reasonable by regarding the nature of the punishment inflicted, the effect on the child, and the child’s age.

In practice, this meant that Scottish parents were generally allowed to smack their children on the body.

Shaking, the use of an implement and blows to the head are currently illegal in Scotland, while all physical punishment in schools and education settings is already banned.


What is classed as physical punishment?

The new legislation’s definition of physical punishment aligns with the definition used by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

The definition includes:

hitting, such as slapping smacking with a hand or implement kicking shaking or throwing children scratching pinching biting pulling of the hair or boxing ears forcing children to stay and hold uncomfortable positions burning Scalding forced ingestion