Poland: Controversy in the Law

Poland is still one of the five EU countries where parents are allowed to use corporal punishment of children. Despite being a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other international laws and a member of the Council of Europe, Poland still remains among those countries that have not fulfilled their commitments in protecting children against all forms of violence from adults, including application of corporal punishment as an educational method.

In 2003 and again in 2005 the European Committee of Social Rights declared that the situation in Poland is not in conformity with article 17 of the European Social Charter “on the grounds that corporal punishment in the home is not prohibited.” (Read the full statement)

There is some controversy as to what exactly the law says. Article 40 of the Polish Constitution states: “No one may be subjected to torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. The application of corporal punishment shall be prohibited.” But the Constitution also upholds the right of parents “to rear their children in accordance with their own convictions” (article 48.1) and “to ensure their children a moral and religious upbringing and teaching in accordance with their convictions” (article 53.5), and the Family and Guardianship Code states that a child should be obedient to parents (article 95.2). A commentary to article 95.2 of the Family and Guardianship Code suggests that this article permits the use of some corporal punishment by parents.

Public Attitudes towards Smacking

In September 2008, FDN commissioned a study to evaluate the attitude towards corporal punishment of children among Polish citizens (see Further Articles).

The research findings show that 16% of people interviewed still consider corporal punishment as an effective means for disciplining children. 45% of parents think that there are situations in which its use can be justified and 32% believe it should never be applied. As far as a legal ban on corporal punishment is concerned, exactly half of the respondents are in favour of such a ban, 32% are opposed to it, and 17 % abstained from answering). When asked about forms of punishment used against their own children, almost 70% of the respondents admitted to slapping their child with a hand, 19% to beating the child with a belt, and 6% smacked their child at least once so strong that it left marks on the child’s body.

Therefore, there is a need to introduce a clear ban on any use of physical force against children in the home in Polish legislation. Such a ban should be included in the Family and Guardianship Code, which defines parents’ rights and obligations accruing from parental power and should categorically exclude corporal punishment from permitted child-raising and disciplinary measures.

Read more on the debate of the legal framework in Poland