CNN, September 23, 1998

Euro-court: Parents who beat their children violate human rights

STRASBOURG, France (CNN) -- A British law allowing parents to claim that beating their children is reasonable punishment has been ruled illegal by a European court and must be changed, according to a judgment delivered Wednesday.

Acting in the controversial case of a boy beaten with a cane by his stepfather, the European Court of Human Rights concluded that British law failed to protect the boy from "inhuman and degrading treatment," as required by the European convention of human rights.

It fined Britain the equivalent of $50,400 in damages and legal fees.

The boy, now 14, cannot be named for legal reasons. He was 9 when he was beaten and a pediatrician found a number of bruises. The beating occurred after he allegedly tried to stab his younger brother with a kitchen knife.

The lawsuit that led to Wednesday's ruling was an attempt by the boy's lawyers to contest British laws sanctioning "reasonable chastisement" of children.

Mother defends boy's beating

A British court had acquitted the stepfather of charges of assault.

The boy's natural father, with whom the boy now lives, backed the child in an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights.

But the boy's mother defended the beating, saying he had been "totally out of control" and had "run riot" since the age of 2.

Under Wednesday's ruling, the British government must amend its law and pay the boy the damages. No action will be taken against his stepfather.

Caning and other forms of corporal punishment in British schools have been against the law for years. But courts have frequently acquitted parents who have admitted using canes, belts and electrical cords to beat their children at home.

Britain has sometimes lagged behind other European nations in cracking down on the use of corporal punishment.

Until 1891, for instance, British men could legally beat their wives with a stick, provided it was no thicker than a man's thumb. Under the law, husbands were also allowed to lock up their wives as a punishment.

Correspondent Patricia Kelly and Reuters contributed to this report.

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