General Assembly calls for law amendment to protect children

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The General Assembly meets every May in Edinburgh.

The Scottish Government has been urged to amend the law to ensure that it is never acceptable to beat a child.

Commissioners at the General Assembly voted in favour of calling on Scottish ministers and parliamentarians at Holyrood to acknowledge the recommendations of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and remove the defence of "justifiable assault" from the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003.

The move would grant youngsters under 16 the same rights as adults.

Legal protection

The decision was welcomed by the Rev Sally Foster-Fulton, convener of the Church and Society Council, who said children must not be subjected to any form of violence.

A report published by the Church and Society Council stated: "If this defence was to be removed it would not create a new criminal offence.

"It would simply mean that adults and children had the same legal protection against violence.

"Legal systems have usually restricted parents' rights over their children to some extent by banning extreme physical harm, and allowing state authorities to intervene in order to protect children.

"Yet the state generally accepts that parents have a right and responsibility to bring up children within their own, inherited value system, provided those values do not offend the norms of the wider community.

"Where the rights of parents and the needs of children conflict, the trend is increasingly to attach more weight to the right of the child to be protected from harm."

Following a lengthy and passionate debate, arguing the pros and cons of smacking young children, commissioners agreed that corporal punishment of children must be recognised as a violent act and violence is damaging to mental and physical health.

Must not negate rights of child

Mrs Foster-Fulton said: "Today the General Assembly said that children should be, and must be, unbeaten.

"We now add the Church's voice to many other organisations to call upon the Scottish Government to remove the defence of justifiable assault, granting children the same rights that every adult enjoys in this area.

"Bringing up children is one of the most challenging privileges any of us can face.

"But in performing this privilege we must not negate the rights of the child.

"As parents, as a Church, as a society we want the best for our children.

"As a Church we will work with parents and others to support them in doing that."

The General Assembly instructed the Church and Society Council to join relevant campaigns including Children are Unbeatable! Scotland which seeks to end the corporal punishment of children.

Commissioners also urged officials to work with the Church's social care arm CrossReach and Safeguarding service to provide access to resources to support the development of non-violent parenting skils.