AS a consultant in public health medicine at NHS Scotland with a remit for child health, I am completely committed to improving the health – both mental and physical – of young people.

It is hard to imagine anything more important, both for our young people themselves and the future of our country and our public health in particular.

A key issue that has been much debated recently is a bill in the Scottish Parliament which seeks to protect children from physical punishment.

That is why, at a recent BMA public health conference I brought a motion in support of the Bill. It was passed and supported by the conference. That’s a real step forward. It doesn’t mean it is official BMA policy as yet – there are some further steps and votes required to secure that important move. But it does indicate

the strength of feeling among public health doctors within the BMA that this is absolutely the right thing to do.

So, let me explain why, in my view, this is so important.

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.

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.

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 well-being.

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.

Some adults will say that they were hit as children, and this did them no harm. However, the fact that some children escaped harm is not a reason to fail to protect the many who are.

The UK, including Scotland, is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and as such it is failing to uphold its duties in relation to Article 19 – the right of the child to be protected from all forms of violence. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child is clear that any form of physical punishment is a breach of children’s human rights.

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.

This change will not criminalise parents, rather it is using legislation as a tool to facilitate behaviour change, as has been done with many other public health issues.

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.

The Scottish Government is to be commended for its 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.

Until that time however, children are being denied their right to full protection from physical violence, and being denied the opportunity to experience the highest attainable standard of health.

I believe that supporting the Equal Protection from Assault Bill is essential to improving the health and wellbeing of children in Scotland.

I will go on making that case on a personal level, and it is encouraging that there is support among the BMA’s public health doctors. I very much hope that by working together, we’ll be able to deliver greater protection to all of Scotland’s children.

Tamasin Knight is a consultant in public health medicine at NHS Tayside