Scots move to outlaw smacking is abandoned

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The Independent Online

Proposals make the smacking of children under the age of three a criminal offence in Scotland have been abandoned after the planned legislation was condemned as unworkable.

Proposals make the smacking of children under the age of three a criminal offence in Scotland have been abandoned after the planned legislation was condemned as unworkable.

The Scottish Executive was forced into a U-turn at the end of months of controversy over proposals intended to clarify the law on child punishment and debate on whether it was unreasonable to smack a child who might be too young to comprehend right from wrong.

After close scrutiny by the Scottish Parliament's Justice 2 Committee, made up of influential backbench MSPs, the Minister for Justice, Jim Wallace, has been forced to abandon the plans originally outlined in the Executive's Criminal Justice Bill. A report by the committee recorded that the majority of members felt that a ban would not reduce harm to children to such an extent as to justify enforcing the legislation.

"The committee strongly supports any measures which will reduce harm to, or abuse of, children and welcomes the general trend in society towards less physical punishment of children," said the Justice 2 Committee convener, the Labour MSP Pauline McNeill. "But we do not wish to see an increase in the prosecution of parents for moderate physical punishment."

While opposition parties heralded the climbdown as an embarrassment for Jack McConnell, the First Minister, and the ruling Labour and Liberal Democrat coalition, child welfare groups were disappointed by the decision.

"We do not agree that children have sufficient protection under the current law, which allows for 'reasonable chastisement' of children," said Maggie Mellon of the children's charity NCH Scotland. "Children are being seriously hurt by what some people see as reasonable chastisement and they are the only group of people whom the law recognises can be physically punished."