IFSW Europe - 25th October 2009
Safeguarding children from legalised violence
The International Federation of Social Workers (IFSW) is a member of the Global Alliance of Organisations wishing to secure worldwide protection of children from physical punishment and other forms of degrading treatment.
The Federation welcomed the Council of Europe’s 2008 initiative - "Raise your hand against smacking - Your hands should nurture not punish" and are pleased that 18 European states have banned all smacking and that of the 27 EU states only 4 countries have not either achieved this change or are committed to doing so.
As social workers we are acutely aware of the impact that the threat of and actual exposure to violence has on the lives of children, families and communities. Perpetrators themselves have often been victims of violence at an earlier stage in their lives.
Parenting behavior is something we learn in our own childhood and it can take more than a generation for changes made now to have the desired effect on future behavior.
We are responsible for investigating and protecting children from abuse including the excessive use of physical punishment. We also support survivors of domestic abuse. Our work is made all the more difficult by the mixed message about physical punishment that the state gives where there is continued support for the concept of reasonable chastisement.
We can appreciate that resistance to change in the 4 countries mentioned above reflects established attitudes about parental responsibility characterised by widely held notions such as “you have to be cruel to be kind” and “spare the rod and spoil the child”.
However the physical punishment of children is rarely a considered response to unacceptable behavior. It is much more likely to be an impulsive act which in the worst scenarios can result in lifelong physical and emotional damage.
Furthermore we know that rewarding good behavior and alternative sanctions for unacceptable conduct are much more effective.
We believe that children deserve the same protection from assault as that enjoyed by adults and that removal of the “reasonable punishment” defense throughout Europe would:
-fulfill children’s human rights
-eliminate violence against children
-improve the effectiveness of child protection
-provide a foundation for promotion of positive discipline that works
Such a major change needs to be accompanied by appropriate guidance for parents and people working with children to ensure that:
-following implementation children’s best interests can be assured
-there will be no change to established thresholds for formal abuse investigations
-parents will not be prosecuted for minor physical assaults
IFSW (Europe) intends campaigning for this important change in the remaining 4 countries