Monthly Archives: June 2017

Why we need to use data to progress children’s rights in Scotland

This was first published in 2017 but is pertinent now given the debate in the Scottish Parliament today, 3 October 2019, of the Equal Protection bill.


When it comes to children’s rights, it is often the qualitative aspects of children’s lives that we think about. How far children are free to have and to enjoy their rights is something we tend to measure in terms of stories and narratives, preferably told by children themselves. For many, there is the belief, or perhaps the concern, that these qualitative aspects of life cannot be quantified, cannot be translated into, or represented by, statistical forms of data. I would argue that such people are probably correct insofar as how they understand and interpret what is trying to be measured. A statistical indicator cannot hope to encapsulate the breadth and depth of qualitative experience, or of thoughts and feelings. However, I would argue that a statistical indicator can complement qualitative information, that it can highlight qualitative information, that it can extend qualitative information by asking such questions as ‘how many?’, ‘how often?’ and ‘to what extent?’.

Indicators can give a representative and generalisable overview, a robust and valid account, a reliable explanation, and can help, perhaps, direct problems towards solutions.  I would argue that we need indicators to track change and improvement in the implementation, realisation and enjoyment of rights for children. We need these especially to monitor the rights of those groups that face more challenging circumstances and discrimination. Indicators also allow us to assess and support the efforts of public bodies and civil society to implement children’s rights and meet their rights obligations. It is important to understand that collecting qualitative and quantitative data needn’t be an either/or, it can be a ‘let’s have both!’ When used in combination, quantitative and qualitative data can reveal a wider, deeper, more nuanced picture than they can individually.

In today’s seminar, I show the analysis of some data. I present a table from the child-completed section of the Growing Up in Scotland survey data from sweep 7 in 2012 when 94% of the children were 7 years old and 6% were 8 years old. The question asks children to respond to the following statement ‘My parents smack me when I have done something wrong’ and gives the following four possible responses: 1) Never, 2) Sometimes, 3) Often, and 4) Always. Additionally, the gender variable (girl/boy) is used as is the binary poverty measure of being below 60% median equivalised income (poverty/no poverty). Any number of socioeconomic variables could have been used, such as education or social class, poverty was chosen for the simplicity of the two categories.

This question is very timely in Scotland. A new consultation has been announced on a proposed Bill on equal protection from assault for children and young people. The Bill aims to remove the legal defence of “justifiable assault” for the smacking of children, bringing Scotland in line with UNCRC recommendations and with most other European countries[1]. To shed light on this issue, and to show what we can learn if we collect the right data, the table below gives percentages of children aged 7/8 years old who report being ‘smacked’ by their parents, broken down by gender and poverty:

My parents smack me when I have done something wrong Boys Girls
No poverty Poverty No poverty Poverty
Never 45.7 41.8 49.5 41.1
Sometimes 33.5 33.1 37.3 37.7
Often 9.0 9.7 6.2 8.5
Always 11.8 15.4 7.2 12.7

Source: Growing Up in Scotland (2012 – sweep 7, n= 3,353)

The most striking point of note to me is that over half of all children report being smacked. This is in a climate where smacking is reported to have decreased in prevalence. Both the gender element and the poverty element are statistically significant (analyses not shown) meaning that boys are smacked more than girls and poorer boys and girls are smacked more than wealthier girls, especially. Wealthier boys, however, are still smacked ‘always’ at 1.6 the rate of wealthier girls. I don’t think this is acceptable and I hope to show today that this indicator complements the known qualitative data on how children feel when they are smacked.


[1] (accessed 31 May 2017)

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