The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child shows absolute confusion in its latest statement on violence against children. (Committee on the Rights of the Child – 42nd Session, Geneva June 2006)
The Committee says that all corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment are forms of violence, and member countries must take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to eliminate them. In the view of the Committee, corporal punishment is invariably degrading and they believe that other non-physical forms of punishment are also cruel and degrading – for example, punishment which may threaten or scare a child. (article 19)
This could include such parental action as physically placing a child in time-out, threatening withdrawal of privileges or treats, scaring a child with the possible consequences of wrong behaviour, and perhaps even groundings and telling a child to apologise to another person for rude or anti-social behaviour – which the child may find cruel or degrading!!
But then, in total contradiction, the Committee tells the same countries to respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents to provide, in a manner consistent with the maturity of the child, appropriate direction and guidance! (article 5)
This is consistent with the “reasonable” test contained in the current s59.
The document also states that cases of corporal punishment of children by their parents should not lead to prosecution of parents unless there is “significant harm”, and that “prosecuting parents is in most cases unlikely to be in their children’s best interests.” (clause 40/41)
Whether the UN Committee intended it or not, this would support the retaining of s59 and the focusing on the real causes of child abuse such as poverty, stress, drug and alcohol abuse and family breakdown (as highlighted by a recent UNICEF report).
Supporters of the repeal of s59 who constantly quote the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child could benefit from understanding its underlying message – it is in the best interests of the child to support good parents doing a great job!