New Scottish Government guidance tells Scots to dial 999 if they see child being smacked

Campaigners have raised fresh concerns over the introduction of a smacking ban in Scotland next month after new guidance urges people to phone 999 and "report a crime" if they see a child being punished.

Monday, 12th October 2020, 12:21 pm
Updated Monday, 12th October 2020, 3:23 pm
The new guidance has concerned campaigners
The new guidance has concerned campaigners

It is now being claimed the legislation will turn "ordinary, decent mums and dads" into criminals - despite assurances from ministers that this would not be the case.

The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Act 2019 was brought forward by Greens MSP John Finnie and passed at Holyrood last year after it was backed by 84 MSPs while 29 opposed it. The measures will come into effect on November 7 and guidance has now been published by the Scottish Government setting out how it will work in practice.

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This states: "If you see someone physically punishing their child you should call 999 to report a crime in progress or if a child or young person is in immediate danger.”

MSPs backed smacking ban last year

It adds: “You can also call the police on 101 if you think a crime has been committed. Another option is for you to contact Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111 to report a crime anonymously. They'll pass the information about the crime to the police. Or you can contact your local council if you are concerned about harm to a child from physical punishment.”

The guidance goes on: “If a parent or carer physically punishes or disciplines their child they can be prosecuted with assault. Under the current law, depending on what happened, the defence of ‘reasonable chastisement’ may be available to them.”

The Be Reasonable campaign group which opposed the smacking ban say it contradicts previous statements from proponents of the legislation that this would not be the case.

Children’s Minister Maree Todd had previously told MSPs: “Our intention is not to criminalise parents.”

Dr Ashley Frawley, a sociologist and spokesperson for Be Reasonable, said: “Supporters of the smacking ban, including the Scottish Government, constantly claimed that it is ‘not about criminalising parents’. Yet here we have government guidance encouraging the reporting of smacking as a ‘crime’ and confirming that parents can be ‘prosecuted’. This confirms what we’ve been saying from day one - the smacking ban will turn ordinary, decent mums and dads into criminals.

Previous polling in Scotland pointed to widespread opposition to the ban with 74% of adults saying smacking should not be a criminal offence, while 75% said parents and guardians should decide whether or not to smack their children.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “This important legislation gives children the same legal protections as adults – something backed by an overwhelming majority of public opinion. The objective of the guidance is to provide information and advice about the Act, and to support families and children with resources such as Parent Club.

“Based on experience from elsewhere, we do not expect a large number of prosecutions.”

A Scottish Greens spokesman said: “When the Equal Protection Act comes into force next month Scotland will join more than 50 other countries that afford children this protection.

"The legislation was passed resoundingly by the Scottish Parliament and will help make Scotland a safer country for children to grow up in. The Act requires the Scottish Government to raise awareness of the change in law prior to it coming into effect.”

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