Italy Outlaws Spanking
Release by Susan Bitensky, professor of law at Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University

The Supreme Court of Italy, that country's highest court, issued a decision on May 16, 1996, prohibiting parents from using corporal punishment to educate or correct their children.

In an interview in Rome with Professor Susan Bitensky of the Detroit College of Law at Michigan State University, Supreme Court Judge Francesco Ippolito stated that the decision is intended to completely ban all such corporal punishment of children.

The case arose when a father got into the habit of slapping his 10-year-old daughter to correct her behavior. For example, he would hit the girl every time she was caught lying or receiving bad grades in school. The father offered two defenses. First, he argued that he had caused no danger of death or injury and had not been found guilty of abuse in his first trial. Second, he contended that he had no intention of mistreating his daughter, but, rather only wished to correct her behavior. The Supreme Court of Italy rejected both defenses and held that the father had violated Italy's statutory prohibition against mistreating children.

According to Judge Ippolito, the Supreme Court of Italy considered this case as an opportunity to get at the basis of the problem of violence against children. The Court relied on the Italian Constitution and statutory law and on international law to enunciate as a juridical principle that parents are absolutely forbidden from using any violence or physical punishment to educate their children.

Although Italy's lower courts are technically free to give a different interpretation to Italy's Constitution, statutes and the like, Judge Ippolito noted that as a practical matter, lower courts are reluctant to deviate from a Supreme Court decision unless they can find a very strong rationale for doing so. The new Supreme Court decision on corporal punishment of children is, therefore, regarded as law throughout Italy. This means that Italy now joins Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Austria and Cyprus in prohibiting corporal punishment of children.

See Final Straw: To spank or not to spank, by Susan Bitensky.

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