Equal Protection for Children under the Law on Assault

We think that children are entitled to at least the same protection from assault as adults. Children are smaller, more vulnerable and utterly dependent on adults for their well-being. It can be dangerous to hit a child as it always carries a physical risk and may lead to increased violence as adults hit harder and harder to achieve the same result. Physical punishment also hurts children emotionally. It fails to respect children's dignity and physical integrity and this would not be acceptable for any other group of the population. All physical punishment should be against the law and be clearly banned via national legislation globally.

International and regional human rights treaties make the prohibition of physical punishment and other cruel and degrading treatment of children an obligation. The
Convention on the Rights of the Child requires states to prohibit explicitly all forms of violence against children.

Following up the UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children, the General  Assembly, in its Resolution on the Rights of the Child adopted in December 2007, urged all states:

“(...) to strive to change attitudes that condone or normalize any form of violence against children, including cruel, inhuman, or degrading forms of discipline” and
“(...) to take measures to promote constructive and positive forms of discipline and child development approaches in all settings including the home.”

Legislation that gives children equal protection from assault as adults does not only fulfill human rights obligations; it also sets a clear standard that the use of physical force is unacceptable. It gives a clear message that hitting children is wrong - at least as wrong as hitting anyone else. It also provides a consistent basis for child protection as well as for the promotion of alternative, positive forms of discipline.

What does a law against physical punishment mean for Parents?

Giving children equal protection means criminalizing assaults on children in the same way and to the same extent as assaults on adults are criminalized. Criminalizing corporal punishment means making it against the law.

That does not imply that all parents who smack their children ought to end up in court. Prosecutions and other formal interventions should only be pursued when judged to be necessary to protect the child from significant harm and deemed in the best interest of the child. The law should act primarily as a preventive measure, that is to discourage parents and guardians from using corporal punishment against children in the first place.

Criminal prosecution of parents is hardly ever in the interest of their children. In every case in which physical punishment in the family comes to light, the aim must be first to seek to help parents and children through voluntary positive interventions which aim to stop violent and humiliating treatment of children. Prosecution should be used only as a last resort, when it seems necessary to protect a child from significant harm.

Additionally, there needs to be a provision of programmes and services to educate parents on alternative, positive forms of disciplining and further support and training for parents who require such assistance.

Global Progress

As at September 2008, 23 states worldwide have abolished all corporal punishment. This includes legal prohibition of physical punishment in the home, schools, penal system and alternative care settings. The countries are:

Austria (1989), Bulgaria (2000), Croatia (1998), Costa Rica (2008), Cyprus (1994), Denmark (1997), Finland (1983), Germany (2000), Greece (2006), Hungary (2004), Iceland (2003), Israel (2000), Latvia (1998), Netherlands (2007), New Zealand (2007), Norway (1987), Portugal (2007), Romania (2004), Spain (2007), Sweden (1979), Ukraine (2004), Uruguay (2007), Venezuela (2007).

In Italy, a Supreme Court ruling in 1996 declared all corporal punishment to be unlawful but has not, as of September 2008, confirmed the ruling in its legislation. 
Within Europe, 18 states have explicitly outlawed corporal punishment, with 13 countries having expresses a commitment to law reform. Take a look at our Children’s Safety Map of Europe.

Main source for the above data on the global progress of law reform: Global Initiative to End all Corporal Punishment of Children.