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Ending corporal punishment of children

Six years after the launch of the UN Global Study on violence against children, child rights experts reviewed the global progress in prohibiting corporal punishment of children, and analysed the remaining challenges in fully respecting their dignity and physical integrity.

Little girl hiding behind a window in Timor-Leste, January 2009 © UN Photo/ Martine Perret“Violence against children, including corporal punishment, is a violation of the rights of the child. It conflicts with the child’s human dignity and the right of the child to physical integrity. It also prevents children from reaching their full potential, by putting at risk their right to health, survival and development. The best interests of the child can never be used to justify such practice,” said UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Kyung-wha Kang. “The need to promote non-violent values and awareness-raising among all those working with children is essential if we want this situation to come to an end.”

Kang was speaking at a side event of the current session of the Universal Periodic Review in Geneva, co-organized by the Permanent Missions of Finland, Tunisia, Uruguay and a number of civil society organizations. Experts noted that corporal punishment was one of the issues raised during the examination of many States, adding that more than 80 had subsequently accepted recommendations to prohibit it.

Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, the Independent Expert appointed by the UN Secretary-General to lead the UN Study on Violence against Children, acknowledged progress however stressing that such advancements were made mainly outside the family setting.

“Only five per cent of the children of the world live in States which have extended the prohibition of assault to protect children from being hit in their homes and families and all other settings in their lives,” he said. “Most of the world’s children can still be assaulted with impunity by those who purport to love and care for them.”

A UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, which spanned five years from 2005-2010, revealed that in selected countries in Eastern and Central Europe and Central Asia alone, more than 50 per cent of boys and girls aged 2-14 had been subjected to psychological or physical punishment by their parents or other adults of the household. These numbers were higher among most vulnerable groups such as the Roma and children with disabilities.

Marta Santos Pais, Special Representative of the Secretary General on Violence against Children, stressed that corporal punishment can be prevented. "By supporting caregivers in the use of non-violent child rearing practices; by promoting advocacy and social mobilisation to safeguard children's dignity and physical integrity; by reforming laws to introduce a clear ban of all forms of violence including corporal punishment, we can make a real difference in the life of children, all children, everywhere and at all times," she said.

The Chair of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, Jean Zermatten, noted that only 33 States had prohibited corporal punishment in all settings of children’s lives, leaving millions of children unprotected against socially accepted violence disguised as discipline.

“For the Committee, there is no doubt that corporal punishment is a violation of children’s rights under the Convention of the Rights of the Child because it is constitutive of violence that causes physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering,” Zermatten said. “It violates children’s human dignity and inalienable human rights, and it negatively impacts on the enjoyment of many other rights and aspects of children’s development including their psychological, health, education and social status.”

Peter Newell, the Coordinator of the Global Initiative to End all Corporal Punishment of Children, revealed that the countries which had banned the practice did so “on the basis of their human rights obligations, supported by the very strong research evidence of the damage that violent punishment does to children and societies.”

31 January 2013

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