VANCOUVER -- Canada should repeal the law that allows parents to spank and physically discipline their children, United Nations special envoy Stephen Lewis told a world forum on child welfare yesterday.
In a wide-ranging speech on violence against children, Lewis condemned Canada for violating its commitment to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child by condoning corporal punishment under Section 43 of the Criminal Code.
Lewis argued that under the guise of terms like "reasonable" force, children are subjected to "gratuitous, offensive, and damaging violence."
"There's something wrong with a country like Canada -- for heaven's sake -- having in its Criminal Code an article which violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child, which we have ratified," he said. The Supreme Court of Canada upheld Section 43 two years ago, ruling that while parents must spare the rod and the belt, it's OK to hit a child from age two to 12 with an "open hand" to the body. Physical punishment of teenagers and children under two is prohibited, as are blows to the head.
"I have always had some reverence for the Supreme Court," Lewis said. "But when the decision came down on [Section] 43, I wondered what had happened to the judges."
Lewis, who is the United Nations special envoy on HIV/AIDS in Africa, drew heavy applause when he called on the crowd to press the House of Commons to repeal the law.
UNICEF Canada president Nigel Fisher echoed those comments after releasing the findings of the United Nations' World Report on Violence Against Children. The report details egregious examples of violence against children all over the world, but concludes there is no form of physical violence "anywhere, any time, any place that is justifiable against kids," Fisher said in an interview.
He acknowledged that the issue remains controversial in Canada.
"I was on a talk show this morning where I was told I didn't know my ass from my elbow because I was against all forms of [physical] punishment, including spanking," he said.
But Fisher said UNICEF's position is that there is no level of acceptable violence against children.
"The thing is we've go to help parents think through how to help children understand cause and effect and the consequences of bad behaviour," he said. "And I think physical punishment is actually a kind of lazy way out. 'I'm bigger than you. I can shout louder than you and I'm stronger than you. Therefore, unless you do what I tell you, I'll whack you.' I can't see that that's actually helping a child understand values and consequences."
Canada, however, has plenty of company in condoning corporal punishment, Fisher said. Only 14 countries in the world have prohibited any form of violence against children.
"We are a country that has played such an important role internationally in developing all kinds of international standards," he said. "I think we should really look very hard at home and act in line with those international principles that we've espoused."
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2006
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