THE LEADER of a campaign for a new law to ban the smacking of children says there is "overwhelming support" with three in four backing the move.

It comes as the Scottish Human Rights Commission prominent human rights group warned that the country is "lagging behind" in its attitude to physical punishment of youngsters and that the rights of children and young people to a life free from violence poses an "urgent challenge to Scotland".

A consultation on a member's bill by Highlands and Islands Green MSP John Finnie, a former policeman, calling for the removal of the defence of ''justifiable assault'', which allows parents to use physical punishment to admonish a child, has attracted more than 650 responses from individuals and organisations.

HeraldScotland:

The Green MSP said almost 75% of those who responded are supportive of the change.

Organisations backing the bill range included the SHRC, Scottish Police Federation, Rape Crisis Scotland, the NSPCC and the Children and Young People's Commissioner.

The SHRC recommended that an "explicit prohibition" is adopted in Scots law to put "beyond doubt" that the criminal law on assault equally applies to attacks on children "irrespective of how light it is and where it happens".

They said: "The Commission considers that Scotland is lagging behind human rights standards when it comes to the physical punishment of children.

HeraldScotland:

"The time has come for the Scottish Government and Parliament to consider the compatibility of the legal defence of justifiable assault with human rights standards.

"The Commission’s view is that children should be afforded more, not less, protection from violence than adults. If we compare both groups, the child is more vulnerable than the adult so in need of greater, not lesser, protection."

In its submission, the Scottish Police Federation said: "The bill will provide greater protection to our children and convey to society that the physical punishment of children is not acceptable.

"In the longer-term, evidence suggests that it may reduce violence and bullying on and by our children."

Rape Crisis Scotland said: "Without legal reform, some children will have less protection from violence and assault than others, depending on whether their parents use physical punishment.

"Given the irrefutable evidence that physical punishment is harmful, it is not acceptable to wait for every parent's approach to catch up with the evidence before introducing legal reform."

Opponents have argued the change in the law would erode the rights of parents.

In its submission, the Christian Institute said parents who use smacking as a form of discipline would be "rendered law-breakers overnight".

"The overwhelming majority of people know there is a vast difference between child abuse and smacking, and the current law rightly recognises and respects this difference," the organisation said.

Commenting on the consultation responses, Mr Finnie said: "I am grateful to all organisations and individuals that contributed to the consultation.

"It is clear from the responses that there is overwhelming support for the proposal.

"There is widespread recognition that children should receive the same legal protection from assault that adults enjoy, a position that children's rights organisations and charities have been arguing for some time.

"It is also clear from all the available research that the status quo can be damaging to children and must not be allowed to continue.

"I will now work with the Scottish Parliament's non-governmental bills unit over the coming weeks to thoroughly analyse each response."

Mr Finnie said he will reflect on the findings before deciding whether to seek the cross-party support of 18 MSPs to enable him to bring the bill before the Scottish Parliament for scrutiny.

The Scottish government said it has no plans to legislate, but said it did not support physical punishment of children and will "carefully consider" John Finnie’s proposals.