No to violence against children

Violence against children, including corporal punishment, can have no part in a culture that is built on the values of dignity, of justice, and of peace.

One typical example, from a study published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect reports that, regardless of the culture or community a child lives in, corporal punishment is “a potential source of lasting psychological harm.”
One typical example, from a study published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect reports that, regardless of the culture or community a child lives in, corporal punishment is “a potential source of lasting psychological harm.”

Corporal punishment, or physical punishment, is intended to cause pain to a person. It has, historically, been most often practised on children, especially within the home or in a school setting. Such acts of violence are not only a violation of a child’s rights but are also a serious attack on the child’s intrinsic human dignity.

As we all know, children develop their personalities and attitudes based upon the experiences they have received, particularly at the most formative periods in their young lives. This should be fully understood by all caregivers, within the context of the far-reaching and long-term negative effects that violence can have upon the psyche of a child.

One typical example, from a study published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect reports that, regardless of the culture or community a child lives in, corporal punishment is “a potential source of lasting psychological harm.”

Corporal punishment does not improve children’s behaviour, but rather, demonstrates aggressive attitudes which can manifest in antisocial and destructive activities.

In February 2014, the Maltese Parliament amended the Criminal Code to effectively prohibit all corporal punish-ment of Maltese children. Before this reform, the exercise of “moderate” corporal punishment was accepted. However, the 2014 amendment added a clause to the article clarifying that no form of corporal punishment can be considered “moderate”.

Indeed, the amended article now makes clear that a parent may be deprived of the rights of parental authority, “if the parent, exceeding the bounds of reasonable chastisement, ill-treats the child, or neglects [the child’s] education”.

Reasonable chastisement can no longer be considered an excuse for physically harming children, because there is nothing reasonable about inflicting violence upon our children.

Outside the home, corporal punishment is also entirely unlawful in schools, day care centres, alternative care settings, and penal institutions.

In this regard, while we must acknowledge that Malta has made significant legislative progress in this regard, changing the hearts and minds requires a cultural shift, backed up by appropriate and effective policies and support.

For this reason, I believe that it is crucial for us to prioritise a cultural change in our Maltese society. We need to move beyond a culture of shame and silence, in order to create the necessary healing within our families and communities.

For us to achieve this essential change, my Office and my Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society, in collaboration with the Ministry for the Family, Children’s Rights and Social Solidarity, and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs and Trade Promotion, are organising a High-Level Global Conference on the Universal Prohibition of Corporal Punishment.

This conference, which will take place between May 31 and June 1, 2018, is bringing together experts and profes-sionals from the United Nations, Council of Europe, European Commission, European Parliament, and participants from a wide variety of other organisations and nations.

Prior to the event, my Foundation brought together national stakeholders from diverse sectors, to gather information and insight into the situation in our Maltese Islands, and how best to move forward.

In this context, I am encouraged by the National Strategic Policy on Positive Parenting launched in 2016, and I augur that it shall be implemented with every urgency, in order to nurture family well-being, and the best interests of the child.

Children need even more of such additional safeguards to protect them from violence. For this reason, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which is the most widely ratified UN Convention in the world, outlines that countries must “take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence”.

In addition, countries across the world are committed to achieve the United Nations’ Agenda 2030, and its Sustainable Development Goals. SDG 16 specifically aims to promote peaceful and inclusive societies, with target 16.2 specifically aiming to end all forms of violence against children by 2030.

Abolishing corporal punishment must be an essential component of our strategies for ending every form of violence against children. The role of the media, alongside legal reform and social policy, is clear in this regard.

The international community cannot stand by, while the physical punishment of children is trivialised, normalised, or ignored in many parts of the world.

Humanity must hold itself to account. I would like to take this opportunity to urge closer collaboration between the international media, civil society, professional sectors, and respective authorities, to put the issue of the abolition of the physical punishment of children on the global agenda.

By challenging corporal punishment, we are united in pursuit of the equal right of every child, to have their human dignity and physical integrity protected and safeguarded.

Violence against children, including corporal punishment, can have no part in a culture that is built on the values of dignity, of justice, and of peace.

 

This opinion appears ahead of a high-level global conference on the Universal Prohibition of Corporal Punishment in Malta between 31 May and 1 June

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