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Opening the Conversation - Smacking and the Rights of a Child

By Yvette Vignando - 15th May 2012

Can there ever be enough articles about The Slap,  or The Smack?  Channel 9 show 60 Minutes re-ignited an ongoing conversation adults are having in Australia about whether it is okay to use corporal punishment with children.  And today on Channel 9 show Mornings, I was asked about smacking as well as the parenting technique known as Magic 1-2-3; a UK mother had written that she had extricated herself from a pattern of negotiating with her children and about her feeling like they would never take no for an answer. I think we’ve all been there from time to time haven’t we?  Learning to say no and be consistent is part of the answer, but I don’t think it’s the whole answer.

There are quite a few ‘formula’ – type methods that can be effective for improving children’s behaviour – Magic 1-2-3 is one of them; I like its consistency and emphasis on the parent remaining calm but I think the missing piece in it is – tuning into your children’s emotions and using moments to teach your children the skills they need to solve conflict in future, calm themselves down and express their feelings in a more appropriate way. You can view the discussion on Mornings here – Saying No to Your Child .

What I want to write about is the view that many adults have: it is okay to discipline a child using corporal punishment. My views are already expressed here and here and Professor Kim Oates from Sydney Medical School has also written his opinion on The Slap here.

Time to Re-Open the Conversation - Smacking

I think it is topical given that the Australian government has announced its intention to appoint an Australian Children’s Commissioner whose important role will include the consultation of children about their human rights and other issues affecting their wellbeing.

Australia ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (sometimes affectionately called the CRoC) in December 1990. As a signatory to the CRoC, Australia has a broad obligation to consider the best interests of children when creating laws that affect them.  The CRoC is very clear about parents maintaining the responsibility of giving guidance to their children. But what does the CRoC say that is relevant to corporal punishment?

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child - Corporal Punishment

Article 19 states that children have the right to be protected from being hurt and mistreated, mentally and physically. Governments are obliged to make sure that children are properly cared for and protected from violence.  Article 37 states that nobody is allowed to punish children in a cruel or harmful way.  And Articles 4 and 42 state that governments should let children know about their human rights.

So - what would children say about the suggestion that we, as parents, have the “right” to smack, slap or hit a child? Are we prepared to listen and take this into account when we have a conversation on corporal punishment?

Even if there is no permanent physical harm done from a single instance of corporal punishment – can we justify smacking when we know it hurts a child, when we know there are other effective parenting techniques, and when we know that a small minority of parents do take physical punishment too far?

I think we have to keep talking about this in Australia – I don’t think it’s good enough to simply say “I was smacked as a child and I am fine.” The discussion has to be broader than our own experience of smacking and extend to the need to protect all children – including the minority of children who may be with parents who are in fact harming them.

Research and Opinions of Children on Smacking and Hitting Children

I have taken this quote from a document produced for children to read, by Save the Children  - it’s really worth a look and perhaps a discussion with your older children:

     Corporal punishment hurts physically and emotionally, and it can be very humiliating, too. Research on children’s feelings and thoughts about corporal punishment is now being done all over the world. In this research, children are telling adults that it does hurt, a lot.  The biggest piece of research is the UN Secretary-General’s Study on Violence against Children.  In 2006, Professor Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, who led the study, wrote:

    ‘Throughout the study process, children have consistently expressed the urgent need to stop all this violence. Children testify to the hurt – not only physical, but ‘the hurt inside’ – which this violence causes them, compounded by adult acceptance, even approval, of it. Governments need to accept that this is indeed an emergency, although it is not a new emergency. Children have suffered violence at the hands of adults unseen and unheard for centuries. But now that the scale and impact of violence against children is becoming visible, they cannot be kept waiting any longer for the effective protection to which they have an unqualified right.’

And this:

      A different piece of research found that two parents out of five who had hit their children had used a different degree of force than they meant to. This means that they might have hit their children much harder than they meant to. Obviously, this could be very dangerous – children, especially babies and small children, could get seriously hurt.

And this:

In almost all the countries that have banned all corporal punishment, most adults did not agree at first – but once the law was made, many more people changed their minds and began to think that corporal punishment was wrong. In a few years’ time, adults will look back and be amazed – and ashamed – that once some people thought it was OK to hit children.

If you would like to read some research about children’s experiences and opinions on corporal punishment – this site is a good place to start.

So, let’s open up the conversation – what are your views?

P.S. It is illegal to use corporal punishment with children in these 32 states http://www.endcorporalpunishment.org/pages/frame.html

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