The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child in its General Comment on the issue of corporal punishment (2006) has come up with a comprehensive definition that we would like to adopt. Corporal or physical punishment is defined “as any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light. Most involves hitting (‘smacking’, ‘slapping’, ‘spanking’) children, with the hand or with an implement – whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc. But it can also involve, for example, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, burning, scalding or forced ingestion (for example, washing children’s mouths out with soap or forcing them to swallow hot spices). In the view of the Committee, corporal punishment is invariably degrading. In addition, there are other non-physical forms of punishment which are also cruel and degrading and thus incompatible with the Convention. These include, for example, punishment which belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats, threatens, scares or ridicules the child.”
Giving children equal protection means criminalising assaults on children
in the same way and to the same extent as assaults on adults are criminalised.
Criminalising corporal punishment means making it against the law. But prosecution is a separate issue. Minor assaults between adults are only prosecuted in the most exceptional circumstances, and the same should be true of assaults on children.
See the NSPCC policy position concerning Equal Protection
Children who are severely physically punished are more likely to severely and repeatedly assault a sibling. The more physical punishment a child receives, the more likely it will be that the child later on demonstrates physical aggression against an individual outside the family. Physical punishment of children contributes to delinquency and general pro-violence attitude of children.
Find more studies on the effects of corporal punishment
In itself, of course it won’t cause physical harm. But it does give a very clear message that it’s acceptable for big people to hit little people. Children learn from adults’ behaviour. If you tap them on the hand, they might go on and “tap” their baby sister on the head, or their friend in the playground. Loving parents will want their children to learn self control and respect for others. Discipline without smacking is the best way to achieve this, as parents are leading by example.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child replaces the concept of parents’ rights with “parental responsibilities”, including the responsibility to protect the rights of children themselves. The assertion of children's rights seems an unwarranted intrusion to people accustomed to thinking of children as parents’ possessions, but children are now recognised as individuals who are entitled to the protection of human rights along with everyone else.
Children need discipline, and particularly need to learn self-discipline. But real discipline is not based on force. It grows from understanding, mutual respect and tolerance. Corporal punishment tells children nothing about how they should behave. Research has consistently shown that it rarely motivates children to act differently, because it does not bring an understanding of what they ought to be doing nor does it offer any kind of reward for being good. The fact that parents, teachers and others often have to repeat corporal punishment for the same misbehaviour by the same child testifies to its ineffectiveness. Smacking, spanking and beating are a poor substitute for more positive forms of discipline which, far from spoiling children, ensure that they learn to think about others and about the consequences of their actions.
Abolition requires both. It is not a matter of choice: Human rights demand that children have at least the same legal protection as adults. The law in itself is a powerful educational tool, and of course law reform banning corporal punishment needs to be linked to public and parent education. A legal ban will motivate parents to look into positive ways of disciplining their children and ought to be accompanied by governments providing for parent education and for family support services.
The Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe have developed recommendations on policy to support positive parenting to serve as guidelines for states.
We want every country to bring in laws against all forms of physical punishment, and to set up ways to help parents to look at their relationships with their children in a different way. Good parenting practice is essential. Governments should not only answer the call by bringing a ban into law, but should also help to raise parents’ awareness on the issue and to strengthen families by providing easily accessible support services.
The above section is to a great extent a selection and adaptation of FAQ from the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children. Visit their website for more