DOCTORS have signalled they want to see smacking banned believing it is harmful to children’s mental and physical health.

The profession voted at the British Medical Association’s conference in London last week to back legislation currently going through Holyrood.

Dr Tamasin Knight, a consultant in public health medicine in NHS Tayside, tabled the motion which was passed by delegates.

Writing in The National today, she explained why she is in favour of Green MSP John Finnie’s bill – which the Scottish Government has indicated it will support.

“In Scotland, all adults are protected in law from all physical violence. Children, however, are not. Children are the only group of people in Scotland who do not have full legal protection from physical assault,” she said. “In Scots law, the legal defence of ‘justifiable assault’ of a child is available to a parent or carer charged with assault, who claims that what was done to the child was physical punishment. Having a law which states that assault of children can be ‘justifiable’ is harmful on so many levels.”

She added: “The evidence regarding the harmful effects of using physical pain to discipline children is strong and consistent. Physical punishment can damage children’s health and wellbeing.

“It is linked with a range of adverse outcomes including increased childhood aggression and antisocial behaviour; depression and anxiety; and carries the risk of escalation into child maltreatment.”

READ MORE: Tamasin Knight: A law that justifies assaulting children harms health

The Children (Equal Protection from Assault) (Scotland) Bill seeks to remove the legal defence of “justifiable assault” of a child from Scots Law, thereby giving children the same legal protection from assault as adults.

Knight said the legislation will not criminalise parents, but rather it focused on creating “behaviour change” – in a similar way to other public health issues, such as enforcing the wearing of seat belts in cars and banning smoking in public places.

“This Bill has wide support in the Scottish public health community – it is fully supported by the Faculty of Public Health and by the Scottish Directors of Public Health, as well as colleagues in the wider medical community including the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health,” she added.

“Scottish Government are to be commended for their decision to support the Bill. Their support, along with that of other political parties, means that children in Scotland are on the verge of receiving the same legal protection from physical assault that adults currently enjoy.”

Meanwhile, children’s charities will today welcome support for the ban from religious and belief groups. The Church of Scotland, Quakers in Britain and Humanist Society Scotland will all speak in favour of the reform when they give evidence to Holyrood’s Equalities and Human Rights Committee in Skye. Three years ago the Irish Republic became the first country in the British Isles to ban smacking, joining 46 others including Germany, Denmark, Iceland, Spain, Greece and Estonia.

In 2003 Scottish ministers dropped proposals for a ban on the physical punishment of children under three after a public backlash. The move left ministers at odds with the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child – which says the practice should be illegal.