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Speech by Maud de Boer-Buquicchio,
Deputy Secretary General of the Council of Europe
“Eliminating the corporal punishment of children”



Round table, 27 April 2010

Many years ago, corporal punishment was very much in fashion, in all parts of the world and in many different settings - from prison to home, military units, mental hospitals, even places of work -people were physically hurt for all sort of offences, or none at all.

Times have fortunately changed. Today we live in civilised and humane societies which no longer allow human beings to inflict physical pain and humiliate other human beings. Except when it comes to children. Somehow, they were left out in this great humanistic evolution, and in many places it is still perfectly normal to smack them and do all other things that would most likely land you in prison if you tried them on someone your own size.

This is why in 2008, the Council of Europe launched an awareness-raising campaign to protect children from corporal punishment AND to challenge society’s perception of the child as a mini human being with mini human rights. Our campaign builds upon the excellent work undertaken in many countries and by NGOs such as “Save the Children” and “End all corporal punishment of children”.

There are many good reasons why corporal punishment of children should be abolished:

Corporal punishment is a violation of children’s rights to physical integrity, human dignity and equal protection under the law.

Corporal punishment teaches children that violence is an acceptable and appropriate strategy for resolving conflict or getting people to do what they want.

Corporal punishment can seriously harm children and is ineffective as a means of discipline.

The Council of Europe initiative aims to abolish corporal punishment in all places– schools, penal systems, alternative care structures, and in particular, in the home. The legal and political basis for our action against corporal punishment is as clear as our motives to act: the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, the European Convention on Human Rights, the European Social Charter and the case-law of the Social Rights Committee, decisions of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, recommendations by the Parliamentary Assembly, judgments of the European Court of Human Rights.

Now that we know why, we should look into “how”. What needs to be done to eliminate corporal punishment?

Through this campaign, we are asking governments to take three measures:

    1. To introduce a clear ban in their legislation
    2. To promote positive parenting
    3. To raise awareness on children’s rights

Twenty countries in Europe have abolished corporal punishment and 10 more have committed to do so. Sweden was the first one to do it, 30 years ago. Contrary to what many believe, legal prohibition is however not restricted to Scandinavian countries. Countries from the South of Europe, such as Cyprus, Spain, Greece and Portugal, but also Germany, the Netherlands, Moldova, Latvia, Luxembourg, Hungary, Croatia, Austria, Bulgaria, Romania and Ukraine have joined Denmark, Finland, Iceland and Norway in banning the corporal punishment of children.

The Council of Europe campaign has generated a public debate in around 30 countries. The questions raised are more or less the same everywhere. When we analyse the impact of abolition in those countries that have taken that step, we can provide evidence-based answers to those questions. The Swedish example is remarkable as it clearly shows – through a whole generation - how society has evolved following legal reform, positive parenting policies and awareness-raising.

Another lesson learnt through the campaign is that, when people are confronted with the arguments against smacking and take the time to reflect on them, they easily change their minds, attitudes and behaviour.

Last, but not least, we are very grateful to the personalities who lend their support to the campaign. When public opinion is so divided, it is important to refer to role models as they can be excellent advocates for important causes.
Ladies and Gentlemen: abolishing corporal punishment is not a cultural or political choice: it’s a legal imperative.

I wish to thank the Swedish government and Save the Children Sweden for having taken the initiative of organising this event.

I now wish to invite you to discover this exhibition and the rest of the campaign material while enjoying the light lunch offered by Save the Children. We shall then enter into the Committee of Ministers room to have our debate.

Thank you for your attention