PARENTS who smack their children are also more likely to abuse them, new research shows.
A report ordered by three top charities and Scotland’s Children’s Commissioner Tom Baillie recommends the law be changed to a total ban.
It found children who are smacked are more likely to be depressed and grow up to be violent themselves.
The report said the proof that physical punishment is harmful is now so convincing that it should be outlawed entirely. At present, the law allows smacking with a hand so long as it is not on the head. Shaking and the use of canes, belts and other implements is already.
And they recommended levels of legal protection be increased, with smacking seen as a violation of children’s human rights.
Barnardo’s Scotland, Children 1st, the NSPCC and the Children’s Commissioner said as well as a change in the law, parents should be offered lessons and support. They also said there should be an awareness campaign.
The report stated: “The perception that legal reform risks criminalising parents must be weighted against the real, evidence based risk to children of retaining a defence in the law, allowing their justifiable assault.”
It draws on 74 studies from around the world, done in the last ten years.
It includes two pieces of research from Scotland – the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) and the Growing up in Scotland (GUS) study.
One study, of 1600 toddlers in Scotland, showed those smacked before the age of two were over twice as likely to show emotional and behaviour problems by the time they were four.
There was a recurring link between physical punishment and child maltreatment.
And 42 of the 55 studies found that children who were physically punished were more likely to misbehave, even though “naughty” children could be smacked more often.
“There is a strong and consistent evidence from good quality research that physical punishment is associated with increased childhood aggression and antisocial behaviour”, the report states.
“In other words parents who are using physical punishment in response to perceived problem behaviours are likely to make it worse.”
The report also compared figures from the MCS study, which said 58 per cent of Scots mums smacked their five year old children, with the 80-90 per cent who told GUS researchers that smacking was “not very” or “not at all” useful.
Dr Anja Heilman, one of the authors, said: “Our review dispels the myth physical punishment is a relevant disciplinary tool.
“Evidence shows the vast majority of parents express highly ambivalent and negative feelings about it’s use. “
Calls for a change in the law are being backed by The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, Children’s Commissioner Tom Baillie and the Royal College of Nursing.
A Scottish Government spokesman said: “We do not support the physical punishment of children.”