Section 43, which allows caregivers to use force to correct children, must be removed from the Criminal Code for many reasons.
Human rights supercede parental rights. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms entitles every person, regardless of age, to equal protection and benefit of the law, the right to life and security of the person, and the right not to be subjected to cruel and unusual treatment or punishment. Hitting is illegal under sections 1, 7, 12 and 15 of the Charter. In 1991 Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child yet Canada's laws contradict the UN's aims of fundamental freedoms and human rights.
Parental rights come with responsibilities to keep children safe and the law already interferes in parental rights in safety issues. It is illegal to transport small children without restraints or to leave a child unattended in a car, and soon it might be illegal to smoke in a car with children. Spanking is a safety issue because it causes injuries and deaths.
Not hitting children has a proven track record. In 1957, Sweden was the first of 20 countries to ban spanking, in spite of widespread public opposition. Their incidence of child injuries has dropped substantially and their incidence of delinquency hasn't increased.
The law must reflect community standards. Thirty years ago, 97 per cent of Canadians believed in spanking. Today, it's around 63 per cent. Society increasingly frowns upon violence in general and hitting children in particular.
The Canadian Pediatric Society, Health Canada and provincial health organizations recommend against spanking. The law, institutions and professionals all need to speak from a single position. The Joint Statement on Physical Punishment of Children and Youth is a coalition of 280 organizations comprised of social workers, nurses, teachers, parent educators, psychologists, doctors, and psychiatrists all united in support of the removal of Section 43.
Police, social workers and judges have the difficult task of interpreting Section 43. Opinion varies about what constitutes reasonable force, so serious child abuse situations escape prosecution. Parents will not go to jail if Section 43 is removed because trivialities of the law are rarely prosecuted. Because of the disparity in the judicial application of Section 43, one clear message across Canada with zero tolerance toward hitting anyone is needed.
Restraining a child and hitting a child are two very different things. One is necessary in parenting and one is not. The right to restrain children is still protected under other sections of the code.
Section 43 contradicts research. Many studies demonstrate that hitting a child has long-term emotional and physical effects, and there are no studies that conclude the opposite. Hitting might gain short-term co-operation, but evidence consistently shows an increased risk of childhood aggression, poor psychological adjustment, and poor relationship functioning later in life. In 12 years of teaching parenting classes, I have asked thousands of parents if the spankings they received as children enhanced their past and present relationships. The answer is always No!
Education is not enough. Research shows that parents who believe in spanking as correct punishment hit seven times harder than angry parents who have "lost it." For parents whose religious or authoritarian beliefs justify spanking as a tool to obtain unquestioning obedience, the law must prevail to change such attitudes.
Parent support is available. Every parent needs to learn child development, anger management and parenting skills. Post secondary education acquisition does not equip parents with parenting education. Even the mandatory Career and Life Management high school course doesn't address parenting skills or child development. Evidence-based parent education is readily available in the community through churches, community centres, health organizations, private practices, and universities.
Spanking a child doesn't necessarily equate to child abuse, but most cases of child abuse start as punishment that escalates. For most parents, spanking is an angry reaction exacerbated by stress and inadequate knowledge. However, self-control is a learned behaviour and the law compels parents to exercise self-control when dealing with employees, partners, relatives, neighbours and fellow-commuters. Children deserve no less.
As a mother of five children, I know how different and challenging each child can be, but even the worst behaviour can be addressed in many ways besides punishment. Many Canadian families have raised several generations of caring and responsible people without hitting. If some parents can do it, all parents can. If some children live without being hit, all children have the same right. Section 43 has to go.
Judy Arnall is a Calgary parent educator, and author of Discipline Without Distress: 135 tools for raising caring, responsible children without time-out, spanking, punishment or bribery.
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