Council split over ban on smacking of children

A motion calling for Scottish Borders Council to support a ban on the smacking of children in Scotland has been carried by 19 votes to eight.

It was tabled at yesterday’s full council meeting by the SNP’s Helen Laing (East Berwickshire) who urged colleagues to endorse the campaign for a law change being spearheaded in the Scottish Parliament by Green MSP John Finnie.

“I want us to send a message to our lawmakers that smacking, banned in our schools since 1987, is not acceptable in the home and that children should have the same protection under the law as adults,” said Councillor Laing.

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“Not only is it in contravention of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, but there is robust evidence that the smacking of children can lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and, at its worst, can become increased in severity and frequency and sadly end up in abusive situations.

“This is not about criminalising parents, carers or guardians, but rather empowering them to find the best ways to deal with their children’s negative

behaviour in a nurturing and positive way.”

Ms Laing’s motion was seconded by council leader Shona Haslam (Con, Tweeddale East) who said this was a matter of conscience for councillors.

She revealed that members of her administration would have a free vote on an issue which would ultimately be decided at Holyrood.

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In a maiden speech, retired high school teacher Councillor Claire Ramage (SNP, Hawick and Denholm) said: “Mental wellbeing is rightly very much to the fore at the moment and I would contend that some of the issues bringing about mental problems lie in our acceptance that the strong can exert physical punishment over the weak and vulnerable in our society.

“We are all diminished as human beings by corporal punishment – especially in the one place, the home, where love and caring should be unassailable.”

Opposing the motion, retired police officer Councillor Harry Scott (Ind, Galashiels and District) told the meeting: “While there is research which serves those who advocate the scrapping of physical punishment, there is other research which argues it does no harm to the wellbeing of children and that in some countries where smacking has been banned, child discipline has deteriorated and educational attainment has declined.”

Mr Scott believed there was already adequate provision in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 which proscribes the physical punishment of children by a blow to the head, shaking or with an implement.

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He said the Act also set out the specific circumstances in which courts could decide if the smacking of a child was a “justifiable assault”.

“My view is that parents know what is best for their child, including when it comes to discipline.

“Some will choose not to smack there children and some with choose to, but it is not for me or anyone else in this chamber or for so-called experts to judge these parents.

“That judgement should lie where it does at present – in the courts. This proposal advocates an unwarranted intrusion into personal family life.”