The International Juvenile Justice Observatory states its support for the prohibition of corporal punishment and for the great work that is being carried out by the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, which is part of the Global Partnership and Fund for End Violence Against Children. A wide range of activities are carried out through this initiative, specifically designed to catalyse progress towards the universal prohibition and elimination of corporal punishment towards children.
The UN Committee of the Rights of the Child, in its General Observation No. 8 (2006), defines physical or corporal punishment as “any punishment in which physical force is used and is intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light”, highlighting that it is degrading in all cases, and that therefore will always be in conflict with the best interests of the child, no matter the context or the reason behind it.
It also recalls how this punishment goes against the basic principles of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, quoting Article 37, which requires them to ensure that “no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”, and Article 19, which requires them to “take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence”.
There has been constant and increasing progress all over the world regarding the elimination of corporal punishment, ever since Sweden became the first country to prohibit it in all settings a little more than 40 years ago. As of May 2022, there are 63 states that have complete prohibition of corporal punishment and 26 more have committed to reforming their laws to achieve total legal prohibition in the near future.
Ending corporal punishment is essential in order to develop societies that are peaceful and respect human rights, as well as key to achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals for 2030, in particular Goal 16.2: “end abuse, exploitation, trafficking and all forms of violence against and torture of children”. However, nowadays still 86 per cent of all children live in countries where corporal punishment towards them is legal in at least 1 setting, most commonly their own homes.
The field of justice is where more countries have prohibited this type of punishment: 169 have abolished corporal punishment as part of a judicial sentence, and 144 have prohibited physical punishment as a disciplinary measure in penal institutions. In comparison, 135 have prohibited it in schools, and only 63 in the home.
Nevertheless, we must not forget the great impact of any corporal punishment administered by or within the justice system, not only due to the seriousness of the harm inflicted, but also because it is inflicted to children who are by definition in a particularly vulnerable situation, at high risk of social exclusion, and who in many cases have suffered several instances of violence during their lifetime. In this sense, it’s worth highlighting that various studies link violent discipline towards children with increased risk of violent behaviour development and involvement in criminal behaviours over time, among other negative impacts.
These children need justice systems that focus their efforts not on their punishment, but on their rehabilitation and education, to help them have a productive, peaceful and fulfilling life within society, away from violent and criminal behaviours.
With the objective of supporting states in their path towards the elimination of corporal punishment in all settings, the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children offers many resources on the main steps and essential measures to take. In addition, the Global Partnership and Fund to End Violence Against Children offers a wide range of resources for the elimination of all violence against children and funds many initiatives all over the world in this regard. The IJJO adds its voice in asking all governments to introduce the prohibition of corporal punishment for all settings into legislation, as well as to provide sufficient means for its elimination to be realised in practice.