Ladies and gentlemen,
I am very honoured and delighted to join you in this discussion on how to end the corporal punishment of children. I thank the Permanent Missions of Finland, Tunisia and Uruguay for organizing this event. I would like to take this opportunity to welcome the work undertaken by civil society to bring this issue close to the Human Rights Council and its mechanisms, and particularly the efforts by the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children.
We have come a long way since the publication of the UN Study on Violence against Children in 2006, produced by Professor Pinheiro with the support of OHCHR, UNICEF and WHO. As we all know, the UN Study brought to light the tragic reality and magnitude of the problem posed by violence against children, confirming that it exists in every country and takes place in different settings, including the family, the school, institutions and the community. While six years have passed since then, most of the findings and recommendations of the Study remain valid today. UNICEF’s report on “Child Disciplinary Practices at Home” confirms that violent disciplinary measures are extremely common and that more work is needed to fight violence against children, including corporal punishment, all over the world.
Certainly efforts have been made in a number of regions and countries to implement the UN Study recommendations, and we need to celebrate some of the positive steps. Six years ago, there were only 11 States that had prohibited corporal punishment in all settings. Today, more than 30 States have done so, and 18 others have made public commitments to follow suit.
The UN Study urged States to prohibit all forms of violence against children, in all settings, including all corporal punishment, harmful practices, such as early and forced marriages, female genital mutilation and so-called honour crimes, sexual violence, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment, as required by international treaties, including the Convention against Torture and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The recently adopted General Comment No. 13 of the CRC, on the right of the child to freedom from all forms of violence, reinforces this recommendation.
In addition, this same recommendation has been reiterated by OHCHR in its different reports on child rights to the Human Rights Council. I would like to describe in more detail some references to corporal punishment that feature in our reports, and reflect OHCHR’s position on the matter.
In our latest report, which will be presented to the Council this March, on the right of the child to health, we stress that the burden of mortality and morbidity of children that is attributable to violence is high, particularly during early childhood and adolescence. The report also states that in light of the impact of corporal punishment on children’s health, including fatal and non-fatal injury, as well as psychological and emotional consequences, corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishments in all settings should be prohibited and eliminated.
We also recommend that States review national laws and policies and that comprehensive prohibition of all forms of violence against children be included in legislation. Given the interdependence and indivisibility of rights laid down in the Convention on the Rights of the child, the realization of the right to health is indispensable for the enjoyment of all other rights, and achieving the right to health is likewise dependent on the realization of many of the other rights contained in the Convention. Thus, if the right of the child to be free from violence (article 19 of the Convention) is not realized, there will be an immediate and negative impact on the child’s right to health.
Similarly in our report on the rights of children in street situations we recommended prohibition of all forms of violence against children living and/or working on the street and implementation of the recommendations made by the UN Study on Violence against children.
Furthermore, in our joint report with the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children and UNODC on the prevention of violence in the juvenile justice system, we indicated that children in detention are frequently subjected to violence as a punishment for minor offences. We acknowledged that 116 countries have abolished corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure in penal institutions (a positive increase of 10 countries since the UN Study was finalized), but also noted that, despite abolition, violent practices in the juvenile justice system are found in both developed and developing countries. Apart from the use of caning and whipping, children may be punished through confinement in cells for lengthy periods, solitary confinement, food rationing or physical restraints.
Violence against children, including corporal punishment, is a violation of the rights of the child. It conflicts with the child’s human dignity and the right of the child to physical integrity. It also prevents children from reaching their full potential, by putting at risk their right to health, survival and development. The best interests of the child can never be used to justify such practice. Eliminating violence against children is not only a human rights imperative, but it is also a means to bring about social changes and attitudes. While appropriate legal frameworks are needed, little will be achieved if we do not work hand in hand to transform attitudes that condone and normalize violence against children, including corporal punishment. The need to promote the values of non-violence and awareness-raising among all those working with children is essential if we want this situation to come to an end.
Let me finish by reinforcing one of the main messages of the UN Study which, without a doubt, we will hear repeated many times today: violence against children can never be justified and all such violence is preventable.