In its report on the UK, issued today (MONDAY MAY 20) the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights recommends that the physical punishment of children in families should be prohibited. This echoes the 1995 call of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.
Last November, the Government announced that it did not intend to change the law which allows parents and some other carers to hit children (the legal defence of "reasonable chastisement" which dates back to 1870). In Scotland, a Criminal Justice Bill which would ban all physical punishment of children up to their third birthday, and ban the use of implements, shaking and blows round the head for all children, has been introduced to the Scottish Parliament.
But this formal recommendation from a second UN human rights treaty body increases international pressure on the Government to give all children across the UK equal protection under the law on assault.
"Children are unbeatable!" is an alliance of more than 300 organisations, including the NSPCC, Save the Children, Barnardo's and the National Children 's Bureau, which is campaigning for legal reform to give children equal protection and promotes positive, non-violent forms of discipline. See www.childrenareunbeatable.org.uk.
RESPECTING CHILDREN'S HUMAN DIGNITY
The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights is the United Nations human rights Treaty Body which monitors states' progress in implementing the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. In recommending the ban on smacking, the Committee refers to "the principle of the dignity of the individual that provides the foundation for human rights law".
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1966 and came into effect in the UK in 1976. The Covenant guarantees "everyone" including children basic economic, social and cultural rights, including education rights. Article 10 requires special measures of protection for children. States are required to report to the 18-member Committee of experts within two years of ratification and then every five years. The UK submitted its fourth report last year. Government representatives were questioned by the Committee in Geneva on May 6 and 7, and the Committee issued its comments and recommendations (known as "concluding observations") on the UK's report today (Monday May 20).
In 1997, following examination of the UK's third report, the Committee stated that it was "alarmed by the fact that corporal punishment continues to be practised in schools which are privately financed, and at the statement by the delegation that the Government does not intend to eliminate this practice." A year later, Parliament voted to abolish corporal punishment in all schools (in the School Standards and Framework Act 1998).
COMMITTEE ON THE RIGHTS OF THE CHILD
In 1995, another UN human rights Treaty Body, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, after examining the UK's first report under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, recommended that corporal punishment in the family should be prohibited, and criticised the existence of the defence of "reasonable chastisement":
"The Committee is disturbed about the reports it has received on the physical and sexual abuse of children. In this connection, the Committee is worried about the national legal provisions dealing with reasonable chastisement within the family. The imprecise nature of the expression of reasonable chastisement as contained in these legal provisions may pave the way for it to be interpreted in a subjective and arbitrary manner. Thus, the Committee is concerned that legislative and other measures relating to the physical integrity of children do not appear to be compatible with the provisions and principles of the Convention, including those of its articles 3, 19 and 37.
"The Committee is of the opinion that additional efforts are required to overcome the problem of violence in society. The Committee recommends that physical punishment of children in families be prohibited in the light of the provisions set out in articles 3 and 19 of the Convention. In connection with the child's right to physical integrity, as recognized by the Convention, namely in its articles 19, 28, 29 and 37, and in the light of the best interests of the child, the Committee suggests that the State party consider the possibility of undertaking additional education campaigns. Such measures would help to change societal attitudes towards the use of physical punishment in the family and foster the acceptance of the legal prohibition of the physical punishment of children."
The Committee will be examining the UK's Second Report under the Convention on the Rights of the Child in September this year and is certain to increase its pressure on the Government to prohibit all corporal punishment. Following a General Discussion it held in Geneva in September last year, the Committee urged all states "to enact or repeal, as a matter of urgency, their legislation in order to prohibit all forms of violence, however light, within the family and in schools, including as a form of discipline, as required by the provisions of the Convention .".
HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR HUMAN RIGHTS SUPPORTS GLOBAL MOVEMENT AGAINST ALL CORPORAL PUNISHMENT
A Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children was launched during the meeting of the Commission of Human Rights in Geneva in 2001. It has the support of UNICEF, UNESCO, the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights and many organisations and individuals prominent in the promotion of human rights globally (see www.endcorporalpunishment.org) . Supporting the launch of the Initiative, Mrs Mary Robinson, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, stated: "The recourse to physical punishment by adults reflects a denial of the recognition, by the Convention on the Rights of the Child, of the child as a subject of human rights. If we want to remain faithful to the spirit of the Convention, strongly based on the dignity of the child as a full-fledged bearer of rights, then any act of violence against him or her must be banned, in accordance with articles 19 and 28.2 of the Convention." (full text of statement on website).
Further information: Peter Newell 020 8889 9034