GERMAN PARLIAMENT BANS USE OF CORPORAL PUNISHMENT IN CHILD REARING
Researched and written for Project NoSpank by MARGRET SCHAEFER, PH.D.
In a series of articles with headlines such as "Parents will no be longer allowed to slap children" and "Soon there will be no excuses: parliament has outlawed the spanking of children--and it's high time, too," the German press on July 11, 2000 reported that the Bundestag, or German parliament, passed a measure prohibiting the use of corporal punishment in child rearing. The bill is slated to go into effect on January 1 of the coming year (2001).
As of the date of this posting there has been no coverage of this event by major print, TV or radio media in the U.S.
"Finally, parliament has passed a bill guaranteeing the right of the child to an upbringing free from the use of force," reads the Frankfurter Rundschau, one of Germany's premier newspapers, in its lead article on the measure of July 10, 2000. The new law--like Sweden's now 21 year-old law against spanking children, passed in 1979--does not seek to criminalize parents nor does it provide for enforcement or sanctions. It is meant to be educational, to change parental consciousness regarding the disciplining of children. Christine Berger, minister for family affairs, stated, "The old saying that a spanking never hurt anyone has finally been put to rest. 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. Toward this end, the new law against the use of corporal punishment and pychologically humiliatingmeasures in childrearing was tied to a measure increasing the amount of aid to children (Kindergeld) that many German families receive and raising the income level below which families are eligible to receive such aid.
News coverage of the passage of the bill in the German press and commentary by the press and political and non-governmental groups, as well as educators and psychologists, have been uniformly positive, though some lament that the bill does not go far enough in enforceability. Many hail the bill as a final step in further securing the right of a child to an upbringing free of force. "Organizations and political parties greet the prohibition of force in child rearing," reads a headline in the Frankfurter Rundschau. Saying, "it's about time that government acted to counteract the wide spread public opinion that spanking is a necessary disciplinary measure in the rearing of children," Thomas Krueger, president of the German Children's Aid Society (Kinderhilfswerk) acclaimed the new bill as "long overdue," considering Germany's ratification some time ago of the now ten year old UN Children's Rights Convention that guarantees the right of children to an upbringing free from physical or mental violence. This UN Convention is one that every country has now ratified--except for the United States and Somalia. (!)
Germany's new law follows a law prohibiting the use of physical punishments in schools, which Germany passed in the 1970's. With passage of this new law, Germany becomes the 11th country in Europe to explicitly prohibit the use of physical punishment in child rearing. At this writing, the Bulgarian parliament is also considering such a measure. In the United States, however, President Clinton has indicated that he will not introduce a measure even to ratify the UN Convention for the Rights of Children, never mind a law against corporal punishment, because of strong opposition from Jessie Helms and others who vigorously defend the "rights" of parents. As the Oakland City Council debacle on this issue (a measure advising against corporal punishment was defeated by the Council last spring) illustrated, in the US there is much more concern for the "right" of parents to hit their children than there is concern for the right of children to be free from battery. After all, children don't vote.
ORGANIZATIONS ACCLAIM THE PROHIBITION OF FORCE IN CHILD REARING
By Wolfgang Wagner (trs. Margret Schaefer), Frankfurter Rundschau, July 11, 2000
The legal prohibition against the use of force in child rearing has found great agreement. Lawyers and children's right's organizations, as well as politicians, do not anticipate any direct legal consequences from the law in the short run. Of greater importance is that the legislation sends a strong message. Family and educational organizations demand more treatment and therapy options for parents.
Frankfurt A.M. July 10. Nothing much will change in legal reality because of the new measure passed by the Bundestag, according to Munich lawyer Peter Merk. But it is important that spanking parents are now "put into the wrong" by the change in the law and that children now have legal equality to adults, Merk, whose specialty is children's rights, said to the Frankfurter Rundschau. The parliamentary vote opposes the "pathological idea" that children are a possession of their parents. Merk, who is also a member of the National Coalition for the Implementation of the UN Children Rights' Convention in Germany, sees the strengthening of the Children's Lobby as another and not minor effect of the law. The lawyer hopes that the law will serve to lower the "threshold of intervention" of the youth courts against spanking or child-beating parents. The courts can now more easily insist on treatment for such parents.
In the experience of Klaus Menne, manager of the Federal Conference for Children's Education, parents who beat their children are usually aware that they are in the wrong. They usually find themselves in a situation where they feel helpless. That is why they must be offered supportive interventions. Menne points to the 1150 already existing family therapy facilities, which are open to almost everyone. Family organizations are demanding that such helping facilities be greatly increased now that this law has passed. The government must offer the states corresponding means for helping, the manager of the union for German Family Organization, Carsten Rigert, told the Frankfurter Rundschau. The organizations acclaim that the problem of inner family violence is being addressed, but regret that the "sharpest tooth," that of legal enforceability, i.e. the ability to bring a suit, has not been included in the law.
Rigert, who is also the manager of the Family Organization of German Catholics, also misses a clearer definition of "force" in the text of the law. He pleads for a specific mention of the concept of corporal punishment in the law.
The president of the federal Children's Commission, Ingrid Fischbach, sees in the passage of the measure an important signal, but also views the proclaimed right to an upbringing free of force as more apparent than real, because of the lack of the provision for enforcement and sanctions. She had pressed for the adoption of the formulation "children must be raised without the use of force." Therefore she did not vote at the end. She also finds the timing of the parliamentary vote inappropriate. Such an important decision, which has the characteristics of an appeal more than that of a law, should not have been debated only late in the evening. Hence, every effort must now be made to publicize the prohibition against the use of force.
In the view of the German Society for the Protection of Children, this law will raise parental consciousness in regard to this issue. For that reason, a strong governmental information campaign has great importance.
As a matter of fact, children have long had the right to a upbringing free of force--because of the federal children's right's vote in 1999. In answer to the question: "Which right of the UN Children's Rights' Convention was most often broken?" 43.7 % of 110,000 eight to 18 year old surveyed named the right to an upbringing free of force.
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