A ban on corporal punishment seems a very logical consequence of the basic principle of respect for the integrity and dignity of the child set forth in the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Since corporal punishment or physical harm done to an adult is not acceptable, banning such behavior towards children also expresses the equality of respect, which is the right of every human being, small or large. In this connection two things seem important:
Since families are not parties to the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it cannot be used to discipline parents. It can, however, be used to express a State attitude towards children, which we can hope that parents might share or learn. The Convention also can be used as an instrument to convey alternatives to corporal punishment and discipline and to child rearing. Banning corporal punishment in schools, which is usually a public or State responsibility, can be a way of providing an example to parents of how to treat children.
Also, by viewing a ban as a statement of attitude, there need not be penalties involved. National law can be adopted which could involve sanctions to parents, but even the countries with national law prohibiting parental corporal punishment do not have such penalties. Legislation of this nature is not in the Penal Code, but in Family Law. The effects of such legislation is, however, evident: While gross child abuse may not have decreased, available related statistics are in any case uncertain at best, acceptance of the use of corporal punishment has declined. Personally, I think one of the most important effects is the message to the children themselves. A child told me once that he was so confused, because his father spanked him to teach him not to hit anyone smaller than himself. Legislation in this area can help to provide a very clear message: The use of physical force or violence, while it still may happen, is not acceptable. Hopefully, this message will have its own effects on the next generation of parents.
To me, if the Committee on the Rights of the Child had NOT taken a stand on the corporal punishment issue, the message from the Committee could be misunderstood as follows: The Convention is based on respect for the integrity and dignity of the child, with ONE exception: It shall still be acceptable (or even in the child's best interest) for adults to hit children. Fortunately, the Committee has taken a stand on the issue of corporal punishment. It has indicated that hitting children is inconsistent with the principles of the Convention -- there is no exception.
Malfrid Grude Flekkoy Biographical Note
Malfrid Grude Flekkoy, Ph.D. is a clinical child psychologist and specialist in child and adolescent psychology. She was the first Ombudsman for Children in Norway, 1981-1989, holding the first position of this kind in the world. As Senior Fellow for UNICEF 1989-1991, she authored A voice for children: Speaking out as their ombudsman (1991) and as a Visiting Fellow at the Institute for Families in Society, University of South Carolina, she authored The participation rights of the child: Rights and responsibilities in family and society (1997). She is currently Chief Psychologist at Nic Waals Institute, Oslo, Norway.
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