Criminalising parents who smack their children would be “negative, patronising and elitist”, MSPs have been warned.
At an often tense meeting of Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights committee, MSPs heard from experts who clashed over the issue of smacking children, the impact it has and whether it leads to further child abuse.
Professor Jane Callaghan from the University of Stirling said: “Corporal punishment has no positive consequences and has plenty of negative ones,” adding that smacking “doesn’t have a place in a civilised culture”.
Explaining that stopping child abuse was a key issue for her, she added: “It’s long overdue that we end the justification of reasonable chastisement.
“The balance of evidence in psychological research and in research on domestic abuse and other forms of family violence suggests that this is the right choice.”
However, Dr Stuart Waiton of Abertay University said parents would react with “horror and disgust” if physical discipline was compared to child abuse and warned: “Children who are being seriously abused and battered might get lost in a sea of complaints by caring professionals who are now reporting every smacking incident.”
Dr Waiton added: “This is a tragic, depressing bill, and yet another one which appears to represent the aloof, elitist nature of politics and professional life that treats parents in a very patronising and degraded way.
“It uses all sorts of weird legalistic talk about violence, equating children with adults that makes no sense at all to ordinary people, and criminalises parents.
He added: “The problem that we have with this bill is autonomy.
“You are undermining the autonomy of loving parents from choosing how to discipline their children.
“In the process you are degrading something which is done as a form of discipline that should not be understood as a form of violence.”
Demonstrating a slap on the wrist, Dr Waiton urged: “I would just plead to your common sense that if you think that doing that to a small child is a form of violence that harms them then you are living on another planet.”
Both of the other witnesses told the committee that they were in favour of the bill, brought forward by Green MSP John Finnie, which would remove the defence of “justifiable assault” in Scots law that currently allows parents to use reasonable physical punishment to admonish a child.
Diego Quiroz, a policy officer for the Scottish Human Rights Commission said: “Discipline is important, but it should be a non-violent discipline that is applied.
“Both national and international human rights boards have called for an end to corporal punishment.”
Dr Anja Heilmann, the lead author of a report into smacking children also spoke of her support to make it illegal and said: “Physical punishment is now banned in 54 countries around the world and within the European Union the UK is the outlier; the UK is only one of three countries where it hasn’t been banned.”
Annie Wells MSP cited polls, surveys, as well as conversations with people, and said: “We don’t have the public’s support on this bill.
“I don’t believe we should be making parents feel criminal,” she said, asking the witnesses “How do you suggest we bring the public on this journey with us?”
Dr Heilmann said that in most countries where the law was changed, the public didn’t support it, but added: “Legislating means that attitudes change faster in those countries where legislation has been brought forward.
“You will influence attitudes.”
In October, a Panelbase survey for The Sunday Times Scotland found that less than a third of voters back plans to ban the smacking of children.
Just 30% said they support the measure, while 53% told pollsters they believe smacking should still be allowed and 17% said they did not know.