Germany: Banning Corporal Punishment and the Impact of Law reform

In November 2000 the German government passed a law prohibiting corporal punishment of children in the home. The amendment to Article 1631 of the German Civil Code clearly places an emphasis on children’s rights. The wording goes:

“Children have a right to a non-violent upbringing. Corporal punishment, psychological injuries and other degrading measures are impermissible.”
(Article 1631, Paragraph 2, German Civil Code)

Similar to the law reform in Sweden in 1979, the German government combined a clear legal NO to corporal punishment with a comprehensive public awareness-raising campaign. The campaign was carried out by the German Ministry for Family Affairs in cooperation with a wide array of relevant public sector institutions, NGO’s and experts.  The emphasis of the campaign lied on informing parents about the harmful effects of physical punishment and on promoting non-violent, positive parenting models.

Evidence before and after Law Reform

The German Ministry for Family Affairs commissioned a study to measure the impact of the law reform and campaign. The study was carried out by Professor Kay Bussmann in 2001/2002. It was designed to allow for comparison with earlier studies Professor Bussmann had done in this field in 1994 & 1996, enabling an evaluation of attitudes towards and the use of physical punishment of children before and after law reform (see Further Reading).

The study found that the law had:

- Increased the level of legal sensitivity and consciousness of corporal punishment
- Led to an increased perception and definition of physical punishment as violence.
- Stimulated family discussions on sanctioning styles and on the legal limits of physical punishment.

The key message from this research is that the law can work to change public attitudes and behaviour particularly if a programme of public education and support accompanies the change in the law.