Renewed pressure for ban on smacking of children

Children’s groups complained to Council of Europe over ‘reasonable chastisement’


The Government is facing renewed pressure to introduce a ban on smacking children following a fresh complaint to the Council of Europe that “reasonable chastisement” is a violation of young people’s rights.

While measures that allow parents the right to use “reasonable and moderate chastisement” were repealed in the 2001 Children’s Act, the removal of the common law defence requires new legislation.

An official complaint by children’s groups to the Council of Europe says the Irish State has not made any attempt to outlaw the practice, despite repeated criticism from international rights bodies.

Minister for Children Frances Fitzgerald has until the end of this month to draw up a formal response to the Council of Europe committee, which is tasked with ensuring member states comply with their treaty obligations.

The Irish State is a signatory to the European Social Charter, which requires member states to protect children and young people from violence.

The Children’s Rights Alliance – an umbrella group of more than 100 organisations – wrote to the Minister last week, urging the Government to introduce legislation without delay to outlaw what it describes as “violence against children”, and to strengthen positive parenting support programmes.

“We are also seeking a prohibition on the use of corporal punishment in all settings. Corporal punishment is a form of violence and ill-treatment from which all children have a right to be protected,” said Tanya Ward, the alliance’s chief executive.

Ms Ward said the State had failed to take any meaningful action to address previous criticism by both the Council of Europe and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child over its failure to introduce a ban in legislation.

Under review
Ms Fitzgerald recently said the matter was under review, but argued there were legal deterrents to the use of excessive physical discipline in the home and that successful prosecutions had been taken using measures in the 2001 Children’s Act.

She has also argued there is a balance to be found between supporting parents in effective parenting and the use of criminal law to impose criminal sanctions on parents who use excessive force.

The Minister said considerable progress had been made in recent years in encouraging parents to use alternative non violent forms of discipline in the family setting.

Studies suggest a majority of Irish parents never use corporal or physical punishment as a means of disciplining children and opt instead for alternative means of discipline. However, the practice still appears to have widespread acceptance.

The Growing Up in Ireland study of nine-year-olds found that about 11 per cent of mothers smack their children “now and again”, while another survey of 800 Irish adults last year found that almost one in two believed it to be acceptable to slap a child.

The current complaint before the Council of Europe follows on from a previous collective complaint brought by a group called the World Organisation Against Torture in 2005.

At that stage, the council found that although criminal law protected children from very serious violence within the home, it “remains the fact that certain forms of violence are permitted.”

Corporal punishment
Other international bodies have since called on Ireland to reform its law on corporal punishment. In its 2006 the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended a legislative ban on corporal punishment within the family.

Five years later, the former Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights, Thomas Hammarberg, called on the State to “unconditionally ban corporal punishment”.