SPANKING - Questions and answers about disciplinary violence
What can we learn from the experience of countries that have banned it?
Twelve countries have banned corporal punishment in the home as well as at school and in the judicial system. None of them are planning to go back to the old ways.
In Sweden, the law stipulates that children "are to be treated with respect for their person and individuality and may not be subjected to corporal punishment or any other humiliating treatment." As of June 2000, this has led to only one single court appearance. A brochure entitled "Can you bring up children successfully without smacking and spanking?" was circulated and translated into English, Serbo-Croatian, Polish, Greek, and Turkish. According to a survey conducted in 1994-95, 70% of high school juniors and seniors and 56% of adults are against corporal punishment of children in any form. The number of Swedes who consider corporal punishment to be indispensible went from 53% in 1965 to 30% in 1970 to 11% in 1995. In an ever-growing number of residential neighborhoods, meeting places have been created where parents of small children can organize varied activities with the assistance of people trained in child education. The results are compelling: between 1982 and 1995, "obligatory measures" decreased by 46% and "removal to foster care" by 26%. The percentage of youths aged 15 to 17 convicted of theft decreased by 21% between 1975 and 1996. Drug and alcohol consumption and suicides also went down.
Finland's ban was passed in 1983: "A child shall be brought up in the spirit of understanding, security and love. He shall not be subdued, corporally punished or otherwise humiliated."
Norway's ban was passed in 1987: "The child shall not be exposed to physical violence or to treatment which can threaten his physical or mental health".
Austria abolished corporal punishment on July 1, 1989. The law prohibits infliction of physical or mental suffering of any kind on children. Violations of this ban, if not excessive, do not immediately lead to sanctions.
In Cyprus, prohibition goes back to 1994.
In Denmark, a law passed on June 10, 1997 is drafted as follows: "A child has the right to care and security. He or she shall be treated with respect as an individual and may not be subjected to corporal punishment or other degrading treatment." During the fall and winter of 1998, in the schools and child-care institutions, materials were distributed to parents, and a documentary about spanking was broadcast on national television. The same materials were distributed to parents belonging to ethnic minorities who spoke English, Turkish, Bosnian, Serbian, Croatian, Arabic, Urdu, and Somali. Since passage of this law, still recent, a third of Danish parents continue to hit their children, but an evolution is beginning to appear which values attention over discipline and control. In June 2000, not a single court case had arisen from this law.
In Latvia, it is the Law on Protection of the Rights of the Child of June 19, 1998, based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, that prohibits corporal punishment.
Croatia outlawed corporal punishment in 1999.
Italy, for its part, does not yet have a law concerning corporal punishment, but the country's Supreme Court decided on May 16, 1996, to prohibit parents from using corporal punishment to raise or correct their children. As the lower courts are reluctant to contradict a Supreme Court decision, this decision is regarded as law throughout Italy.
Likewise in Israel, it was the Supreme Court who made the decision in January 2000 following an appeals process. The Knesset ratified this decision on June 13 of the same year. The Supreme Court's reasoning for this decision was as follows: "In the judicial, social and educational circumstances in which we live, we must not make compromises that can endanger the welfare and physical well-being of minors . . . We must also take into account that we are living in a society where violence is spreading like a plague, and permission for light violence could deteriorate into more severe violence. There can be no endangering of the physical and emotional well-being of the child through any kind of physical violence.
"The norm has to be clear and unequivocal that physical punishment is not permissible." (Source: The Jerusalem Post).
Germany passed its ban on July 10th, 2000, set to take effect January 1st 2001. In addition, children's right to a nonviolent upbringing is written into the Civil Code. No form of aggression and humiliation toward children is considered acceptable. "80% of children and youths, to varying degrees, suffer violence in their upbringing, for instance a slap or a thrashing. Close to 1.3 million children suffer physical abuse. Among this group, 420,000 children suffer frequent abuse, many of them as infants or small children. To this must be added, in comparable proportion, psychological violence in the form of rejection by parents or of neglect." But as the government clarifies, "‘The point is not to criminalize parents, but to change the consciousness of our society in regard to child rearing.’ The hope is to provide for increased help to parents in the form of parental education and increased availability and access to treatment and therapy for parenting problems."1
Iceland is the most recent country to have passed an anti-spanking law, in 2003. [NOTE: Since this book's writing, the list of nations which have abolished corporal punishment has grown to include Ukraine (2004), Romania (2004), Hungary (2005), Greece (2006), Netherlands (2007), New Zealand (2007), Portugal (2007), Uruguay (2007), Venezuela (2007), Spain (2007), Costa Rica (2008), and Moldova (2009). Updated information is available at www.endcorporalpunishment.org ]
Lots of people reject abolition. Claire Brisset, Ombudsman for Children [2000-2006], says that France is not yet ready for it.3 Boris Cyrulnik, despite being a passionate advocate for the cause of children's welfare, declares that a ban would only serve to increase psychological and verbal attacks (he does not say what this statement is based on). Still others feel it would just lay guilt on parents. . .
It is clear, however, that abuse cases which involve correcting a child to a degree deemed excessive (neglect and sexual abuse being separate matters, of course) are part of a progression from ordinary disciplinary violence. The emergent part of the iceberg that is condemned will always be in proportion to the underwater part that is tolerated. Most forms of abuse, considered as such, start out as "corrections." Many parents begin with a "swat on the diapers" or "on the hand", then, when that proves to be insufficient, get caught up in an escalation that can go well beyond a smack or a spanking. Daniel Goleman2 writes that "for murder victims under twelve, says a report, 57 percent of the murderers are their parents or stepparents. In almost half the case, the parents say they were 'merely trying to discipline the child.' The fatal beatings were prompted by 'infractions' such as the child blocking the TV, crying, or soiling diapers."
This is all the more so when children, out of bravado, may mock the parents ("Didn't hurt!"). The only way to decrease abuse, therefore, is to consider ordinary disciplinary violence unacceptable, to inform people of its dangers, and to propose other discipline methods. But the "Stockholm syndrome" is a constant drag on the evolution towards a general discarding of disciplinary violence. It has taken about two-and-a-half centuries for the public opinion's threshold of tolerance to lower to the level of smacks and spankings. Will it take another century or two for these to no longer be tolerated when even licensed defenders of children are sometimes the ones who reject the idea of a ban? As Alice Miller writes, "We cannot rid ourselves of an evil without first naming and judging it as an evil.”4
Marital relationships are also a private matter, but does anyone find it strange that the law prohibits men from hitting their wives?
When someone calls for the abolition of corporal punishment, they are often accused of being a Puritan, an ayatollah, an extremist and so forth. Those who defend slapping and spanking present themselves as the moderate and reasonable folks who keep everything in perspective.
In the exact same way, on the question of domestic violence against women, people used to say: "Let's not get carried away. A little beating never did a wife any harm!"
Seeking the abolition of corporal punishment is merely being realistic.
Realistic when it comes to parents who, for the very fact of having been hit as children, are unable on their own to stop hitting or even truly question this behavior, which for them is tied to the image they have of their parents and imitation of which is deeply embedded in their neurons. Only a prohibition declared by an authority higher than that of parents can make parents give up this behavior with their own children.
Realistic in terms of children's nature, since none of their innate mechanisms equips them to come out unscathed from the slightest violence on the part of those who form their basis of security and in whom they need to have absolute trust. It is this trust that will be the foundation of their self-confidence and of their capacity for understanding towards others. If this pact of trust is broken, it is also their own trust in themselves which is affected because a child victim of mistreatment will blame himself: "If the person I love so much hits me, I must be bad."
To seek a ban on corporal punishment, far from being extremist, is to demand for children the bare minimum of integrity that our most valued animals enjoy and which children also need.
Such a ban will also be good for the genuine happiness of parents and children alike. Could parents really be happy if their children were hitting them, even "reasonably" and "in moderation"? Likewise, children who are hit "reasonably" and "in moderation" by their parents may find it hard to be truly happy. And that, in turn, affects the parents' mood. A ban is crucial, moreover, given that the survival of mankind is increasingly going to fall upon humans' responsibility and ability to deploy all our emotional and intellectual resources. We cannot continue to allow children to be subjected to hitting of whatever degree of force right when their brains are organizing, thereby distorting them and compromising the fulfillment of their personalities. Our parents didn't know the effects of the blows they were dealing. We, on the other hand, do not have this innocence. We therefore no longer have any right to hit children.
It would not be Paradise. Most of the problems facing us today would continue to face us. But they would no longer be stoked by the pressure of violence which the majority of adults today carry around from childhood. Adults would not have learned from a very early age that violence towards weaker beings is a normal means of settling conflicts. Among most men and women, the cognitive brain and the emotional brain would have been able to develop without being disturbed by the impact of hitting and would be more in harmony. There would undoubtedly be less depression, less illness, and fewer accidents. Everyone could be happier for the simple fact of existing, with no need for the happiness substitute of racing to have things, to be powerful, and to put on appearances, which is currently in the process not only of deepening outrageous inequalities among men, but also destroying the planet. Our intelligence, being less disturbed by violent childhood emotions, would allow us greater lucidity in choosing candidates for positions of power and in keeping them in check. The speeches of demagogues would have less of a following. The capacity for empathy and compassion, now more respected, would also make persecutions difficult if not impossible. Without a doubt, men would no longer be battering their partners or their children. And those partners would be less inclined to let it be done to them, not having become accustomed to it from an early age. Drug addiction, alcoholism, and tobacco addiction would diminish because mankind, being more prone to cheerfulness, would have less need for artificial bliss.