Corporal Punishment

We have come a long way from a time when violence against children and young people in the form of corporal punishment was widely acceptable. Studies of childhood remind us that infanticide in ancient Greece was not a crime. It was not until AD 374 that the Roman Empire outlawed infanticide. Many authors, among them Neil Postman (Disappearing Childhood), have drawn attention to the appalling treatment meted out to children in the family context in the Middle Ages. Today such treatment would undoubtedly be characterised as torture.

Since Locke and Rousseau there has been an emerging awareness of the special place of the child in society. Church groups and religious congregations have contributed in their own fashion to this developing awareness. Although, it has to be admitted, faith-based groups have not been in the forefront in the promotion of the ‘best interests’ of the child from a rights-based perspective. Many elements of a rights-based approach would still be contested by the churches and by some faith-based groups. At times the protection of the interests of the family have been seen to be in conflict with the need to protect the interests of the child.

Thankfully, we are now beginning to move towards a new appreciation of the need to extend greater protection to children and young people, not only in public contexts such as schools, prisons and youth centres, but also in the private context of the home.

Corporal punishment remains one of the contested areas. Most countries refuse to institute a legal ban against corporal punishment in the home. At the same time, however, most countries have outlawed corporal punishment in all other contexts: schools, prisons, juvenile centres.

Cover of UN Report on Violence Against Children

This week the Committee for the Convention on the Rights of the Child issued its General Comment Number 8. It is a call for the wider extension of the prohibition of corporal punishment to the home and for the universal adoption of this prohibition by States parties. This call is a response to the research carried out by Professsor Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the independent expert commissioned to coordinate the UN Report on Violence Against Children. A engaged and spirited debate of corporal punishment in the home is now a certainty. It is, however, a debate that is essential and timely if we are to address the issue of violence against children with integrity.

See CRIN webpage on General Comment 8
See also Save the Children, Sweden, Global Report 2008

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