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The UNSG’s Study provides a new context for making quick progress. At
least 13 states in the region have already prohibited school corporal
punishment. In others it remains lawful in schools, other institutions and
penal systems. In all states in the region, corporal punishment remains
lawful in the home. It is not helpful to consider the issue sector by sector;
banning corporal punishment in schools while it remains lawful in the home
is confusing for children and parents and makes teachers’ task much more
difficult. What is needed is clear prohibition linked to awareness-raising,
public education and initial and in-service training promoting positive, non-
violent or humiliating forms of discipline.
The UN Secretary General’s Study on Violence against Children is human
rights based and rooted in the work of the Committee on the Rights of the
Child. For 10 years, the Committee has consistently interpreted the
Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) as requiring prohibition of
all corporal punishment of children, in their families, in schools and other
institutions and in penal systems. The Chair of the Committee, Jaap Doek,
confirms its clear message in a foreword to the report Ending Legalised
Violence Against Children which the Global Initiative is circulating at this
The Independent Expert, Professor Paulo Pinheiro, has made clear his
commitment to promoting this obligation to all states at all the regional
consultations. So far, globally, only about 17 states have completely
prohibited all corporal punishment including in the family, with six or seven
more committed to do so. About 52 million of the world’s 2195 million
children live in countries where the law gives them the same protection as
adults from being hit, in their homes, schools and everywhere else. In this
region, corporal punishment in the home is lawful in all states. Globally,
110 states have prohibited all corporal punishment in their schools,
including 13 in this region (although in some cases this is by ministerial
direction, rather than legislation); globally, 78 have not fully prohibited,
including seven in this region. 94 states have prohibited corporal
punishment in their penal systems, leaving 75 still allowing whipping or
caning of young people, including at least 10 in this region.
All states in the region have accepted the UNCRC, so all have an
immediate and unqualified obligation to move quickly to prohibit all
corporal punishment and to promote awareness-raising, public education
and training to eliminate it.
Ending corporal punishment is a global issue which touches most people in
all regions very personally. Most of us were hit as children; most parents
have hit their growing children. We do not like to think badly of our
parents - or of our parenting. That makes it difficult to see this as the
fundamental issue of equality and human rights which it is. It remains
controversial in every region. It is very good to see it on the agenda here,
because it is an issue that so easily drops off adult agendas.
We have to move on. We cannot go on pretending that we are serious
about children's rights and child protection while we try to build child
protection systems alongside legal, state-authorised and deliberate
violence against children in the family, in schools and other institutions and
penal systems. It is not possible to consider the issue sector-by-sector
either. To try to eradicate school corporal punishment while maintaining
the legality of it in the home confuses children and parents and makes
teachers’ task far more difficult.
It is completely wrong and upside down that children should have had to
wait until last for equal protection from assault. Some people
respond: “But children are different”. Yes – but their differences – their
fragility and developmental state, their smallness and dependent status,
the special difficulties they face in seeking help – none of these justifies
less legal protection from violence.
While there is still far too much violence against women in all societies, it is
no longer approved by the law or by many community leaders. We do not
get away with saying “What’s wrong with a little slap of your wife or
partner”, or of elderly confused relatives. We have to move on and accord
children the same respect.
Some produce religious justifications for corporal punishment, seeing it as
not just a right but a duty. But there are now respected leaders in all the
major faiths who strongly challenge the idea that religious texts justify this
violence against children. All of us have freedom of religious belief, but
when it comes to practicing our religion, we have to respect the
fundamental rights of others, including their right to respect for human
dignity and physical integrity. These are difficult issues, but they have to
be resolved and cannot remain hidden, and we should expect leadership
now from within the faiths.
Moving on from corporal punishment is a challenge – in my country as well
as yours. My own country – the United Kingdom – has a particular
responsibility for spreading corporal punishment around through
colonisation, slavery, military occupation and some missionary teaching.
More than 70 countries including some in this region, have adopted the
ancient English common law defence of “reasonable chastisement”. No
culture or state should suggest it “owns” corporal punishment of children;
now all states have an immediate human rights obligation to disown it.
We have to be clear about the purpose of law reform on this issue. The
report “Ending legalised violence against children” explains it. In relation
to prohibiting parental corporal punishment, the first purpose is to send a
clear message, to provide the only safe basis for child protection and for
the promotion of positive, non-violent forms of child-rearing. Prosecuting
more parents is most unlikely to be in their children’s interests, so there
needs to be very clear guidance to accompany law reform. The first
purpose of any good law must be educational. But it is no good suggesting
that we should just start with education, and leave law reform for the
moment. A lot of people have been saying it is not a good idea to hit or
beat children for years, but it makes little impact while the law and the
statements of politicians say the opposite. We need clear law, linked to
awareness-raising of the law and of children's rights to protection, as well
as promotion of non-violent forms of discipline.
In schools and other institutions and penal systems, the prohibition needs
to be clearly set out in legislation and be well-publicised. Information on
the law and promotion of positive, non-violent forms of discipline needs to
be integrated into the training of teachers and all others who work with
and for children, both initial and in-service training. It should be a
contractual requirement that teachers and others do not use corporal
punishment or other humiliating forms of discipline, with the threat of
suspension and if necessary dismissal and ultimately prosecution providing
a strong deterrent.
There is no hope of challenging bullying and other forms of violence among
students within schools while corporal punishment persists.
Ending corporal punishment is not an alternative to focusing on the
extreme forms of violence which are already universally condemned –
commercial sexual exploitation, trafficking and so on. This issue is difficult
because of the more or less universal personal dimension. It has to be a
priority precisely because it gets to the root of how we regard children.
There is no more symbolic indication of the low status of children in my
state and in yours, than the persisting acceptance of corporal punishment.
There are now strong advocates for law reform in all states, including in
this region. Governments cannot pick and choose which human rights they
will take seriously and respect; we have to work together – governments,
UN agencies, NGOs and human rights institutions.
Too often one still hears government officials and NGOs and others making
more excuses: “We must wait until there is more support for parents;
more training for teachers; smaller classes. Let’s educate first and then
change the law…” and so on. From children’s perspective this is
intolerable. From the perspective of international human rights law it is
illegal. Why should children wait? Would we wait to prohibit violence
against women until we can provide full employment and universal anger
management classes for men? Would we wait to ban hitting of elderly
confused relatives until we have full-time nursing care, and full training for
all carers, available for them?
Changing the law is not in itself expensive and it sends a strong and
essential educational message. If governments find it difficult and
controversial still, then they must point to their clear human rights
obligations and tell their Parliaments and the public: “We have to do it; we
have no alternative!” They should also point to the research that shows
how often children are being hit, and to the studies with children
themselves that tell us how upsetting and harmful children find it. They
should emphasise that prohibiting corporal punishment is not providing
some special protection for children; it is simply extending to children equal
protection from assault.
Of course, changing the law on its own, without public education and
awareness-raising, will not achieve the universal change in attitudes and
practice which is needed. But governments should not see the education
process as a completely new, separate and therefore very expensive
exercise. To achieve widespread and speedy change in attitudes, clear
messages must be built into all the points of contact with future parents
and parents – in pre-natal and post-natal care, at birth registration,
immunisations, routine health checks and visits, pre-schooling, school
entry, the school curriculum and so on.
NGOs and UNICEF and some governments have pioneered materials and
programmes which need to be universalised. The process needs to be
permanent and sustainable.
No more excuses: this UN Study provides the opportunity to move quickly
on, to make state authorization of violence against children a thing of the
past and to focus instead on giving priority to ending all violence against
children. State governments and all of us have to take a deep breath and
stop deceiving ourselves - hitting children is wrong and the law must say
so - now.