Corporal punishment: Irish smacking law violates European charter

Child being smacked Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Smacking children is not explicitly banned in Irish homes

A rights watchdog has found the Republic of Ireland violated a European charter by not banning all corporal punishment, including smacking at home.

Corporal punishment was banned in Irish schools in 1982 and, by 1996, it was a criminal offence to hit schoolchildren.

However, the Republic of Ireland is one of the few European countries that does not ban physical punishment by parents.

The European Committee of Social Rights made its ruling after a formal complaint from a UK-based charity.

The Association for the Protection of All Children (Approach) lodged its complaint in February 2013 to the committee, which is part of the 47-nation Council of Europe.

'Reasonable chastisement'

The charity alleged that the Republic of Ireland has taken "no effective action" to remedy violation of Article 17 (the right of mothers and children to social and economic protection) of the European Social Charter by prohibiting all corporal punishment and other "cruel or degrading forms of punishment of children".

Approach said the existence, under Irish Common Law, of the defence of reasonable chastisement "allows parents and some other adults to assault children with impunity".

In its decision, published on Wednesday morning, the European Committee of Social Rights said none of the Irish legislation referred to it expressly banned "all forms of corporal punishment of children that is likely to affect their physical integrity, dignity, development or psychological well-being".

The committee concluded unanimously that Irish domestic law violates Article 17 of the European Social Charter.

The Irish Minister for Children James Reilly told the state broadcaster, RTÉ, that his department has started talks with the Department of Justice and Equality on removing the defence of reasonable chastisement from Irish law.

Mr Reilly said that in recent years, most parents have used other ways of disciplining their children.

Foster homes

However, he said he wanted to see the options available on abolishing the reasonable chastisement defence before considering any new legislation to ban parental smacking.

The minister added that he has instructed his officials to prepare regulations that would explicitly ban corporal punishment of children in foster homes or in the care of the state.

Corporal punishment was banned in Irish schools and some care settings under the Children Act of 2001, but it is still not explicitly banned in the home.

The United Nations and other organisations that protect children, including the Children's Rights Alliance, Barnardos and the Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (ISPCC) have been campaigning for some years to change the law on smacking.

Legal experts

The ISPCC said on its website that it believed "comprehensive, quality support and education of parents is essential in actively discouraging slapping and promoting positive, non-violent forms of discipline".

"A legal ban would serve the purpose of removing slapping as an option for parents and would steer and support parents to find alternative disciplinary methods," it said.

The European Social Charter is a legally-binding social and economic counterpart to the European Convention on Human Rights. The Republic of Ireland is a signatory to the charter.

The European Committee of Social Rights is made up of independent legal experts who assess whether countries are in compliance with their commitments under the charter.

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