FRESH calls to 'criminalise' the smacking of children have been issued by the Church of Scotland.

Rev Dr Richard Frazer, convener of the Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, has urged MSPs to remove the defence of “justifiable assault” from law, calling for an outright ban.

The Kirk insisted that overhauling the law would grant people aged under 16 the same rights as adults.  But others suggest it would criminalise parents.

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Dr Frazer who was speaking at an Equal Protection for Children seminar at the Scottish Parliament at 1pm has highlighted research showing that physical punishment is harmful for children’s health and that legal reform should be a priority for the Scottish Government.

HeraldScotland:

He said: “Legislation is needed to continue the process of protecting the most vulnerable members of our society and to send a clear message that resorting to violence as a means of disciplining children is not acceptable.”

Current law in Scotland bans parents from shaking their children, hitting them on the head or using implements to physically punish them.

But they can argue that it was a "justifiable assault" if they punish a child by hitting them. Cases of conviction for smacking are rare in Scotland.

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Three years ago, a father was convicted of assault after pushing his 11-year-old son to the ground and smacking him to stop him throwing a tantrum. He was ordered to carry out 60 hours of unpaid community work.

The sheriff who dealt with the case told the dad he only ended up in court because he left a visible mark on his son. The General Assembly of the Church of Scotland debating physical punishment of children in May this year supported an outright ban on smacking children.

HeraldScotland:

A report by the Church and Society Council had said: “If this [justifiable assault] defence was to be removed it would not create a new criminal offence. It would simply mean that adults and children had the same legal protection against violence.”

“It would simply mean that adults and children had the same legal protection against violence."

Dr Frazer, minister at Greyfriars Church in Edinburgh, said: “Physical punishment is recognised as a violation of children’s human rights under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC).

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“It is a continuing cause for concern that the Scottish Government has failed to take clear and public action to bring the Scottish legal system into line with international standards.

“A ban on physical punishment respects children as rights holders and encourages us all to use non-violent methods of conflict resolution in adult life."

Tam Baillie, Scotland's Commissioner for Children and Young People said there was "clear evidence" that physical punishment does not work and can be harmful to children.

He added: "I welcome the Church of Scotland’s commitment to ensuring children have equal protection from assault under the law. I also welcome proposals for a Private Member’s Bill to remove the defence of 'justifiable assault'."

In November, last year the Equally Protected report, commissioned by NSPCC, Barnardo's Scotland, Children 1st and Scotland's Children's Commissioner, found a strong link between physical punishment and child abuse.

It also criticised the Scottish Government for continuing to maintain that a low level of physical punishment is legal and acceptable. Instead, it should be viewed as a clear violation of children's human rights, the authors said, and children should be given more protection from violence than adults.

In 2003, Scottish ministers dropped proposals for a ban on physically punishing children under three after a public backlash.

A Scottish Government spokeswoman said: “We do not support physical punishment and we do not consider it effective. We do not, however, support a ban as we do not think that would be appropriate and effective.”