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Equal Protection

Scotland cannot be thought of as the best place in the world for children to grow up while our law gives children less protection from assault than anybody else in society. John Finnie MSP

Barnardo's Scotland has campaigned for many years for children to have equal protection from physical assault within the law. This is why we are currently supporting John Finnie MSPs’ proposed Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill.

In Scotland, children have less protection from physical assault than adults within the law. Section 51 of the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2003 allows for the defence of ‘justifiable assault’ of a child, where a person can claim that something done to a child was a physical punishment carried out in exercise of a parental right.

The defence of ‘justifiable assault’ of children is out of step with Scotland’s values and ambitions for children; the vast majority of our European neighbours; and international human rights standards. The UK is one of only four countries in the EU yet to commit to law reform in this area, despite consistent recommendations from the United Nations and other international bodies.

Through our work with children, young people and families, we know how important positive, healthy attachments are for children. Children’s brains develop best when they feel safe and when they are nurtured; we want to see a society and a culture where no violence against children is acceptable. This is why we will continue to campaign for the removal of the defence of ‘justifiable assault’ and for equal protection from assault for children within the Scots law.

Want to know more? Read our FAQs here.

How can you help?

John Finnie’s consultation has now closed and it received over 600 responses. The Scottish Government have committed to ensuring the Bill becomes law and this is very welcome. Over 20 MSPs from all five parties signed up to support the final proposal which means John Finnie has secured the right to introduce a Bill to Parliament, we expect this to be in December. You can do that here by simply putting in your postcode and writing a short message of support.

You can also support on Facebook and Twitter - @EquallyProtect @BarnardosScot @JohnFinnieHI #EqualProtection

Our work

In November 2015, we published a joint report with the Children and Young People’s Commissioner Scotland, Children 1st, and NSPCC Scotland entitled Equally Protected? A review of the evidence on the physical punishment of children. This review set out very clearly the need for legal change in order to ensure our most vulnerable in society are fully protected from harm within the law. Using this research we have been supporting the development of John Finnie MSP's proposed Members' Bill.

We have hosted several seminars on Equal Protection in the Parliament and at external venues as well as holding fringe events at several party conferences in order to raise this issue with politicians and stakeholders. We responded to the consultation on the Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill which you can see below.

More information

Barnardo's Scotland response on proposed Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill (PDF) August 2017

Briefing from Barnardo’s Scotland, Children 1st and NSPCC Scotland for Stage 1 Debate: Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill (pdf) May 2019

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