Physically punishing children manifests in antisocial and destructive behaviour, President says

The president said that corporal punishment is not only an unacceptable violation of children's rights, but a 'serious attack on the child's intrinsic human dignity'  

President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca
President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca

Physical punishment does not improve children's behaviour, but demonstrates aggression which in turn manifests in antisocial and destructive activities, President Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca said.

"There can be no excuse for physically harming children, because there is nothing reasonable about inflicting violence upon our children," she said.

The president said that corporal punishment is not only an unacceptable violation of children's rights, but a "serious attack on the child's intrinsic human dignity," and "undermines the wellbeing of our communities and societies."

"If our laws and our policies regarding children do not respond to the real experiences and concerns of the child, then they are, at best, incomplete; at worst, they lack authenticity and authority."

Abolishing corporal punishment must be an "essential component" in the strategies of all countries to end violence against children, she said, adding that the international community cannot stand by as such violence is "trivialised, normalised, or ignored".

"Humanity must hold itself to account," she stated.

The President was speaking at the third Level Global Conference on the Universal Prohibition of Corporal Punishment.

The conference aims to bring to the fore the issue of corporal punishment which violates the rights of children across the globe. Namely, in enacting comprehensive legislation, raising awareness, capacity-building for professionals, and prioritising prevention among others.

Over 50 countries have adopted laws to prohibit physical violence against children, and others are also moving in the same direction, the special representative of the UN Secretary-General on Violence against Children Marta Santos Pais said.

"So a lot is there for us to celebrate. But of course it is absolutely not enough," she said, explaining that a child dies of violence every five minutes in the world. "It remains concealed, and children are frightened to report such violence," as reporting violence is perceived as a "big labyrinth" by children, she said.

Violence in early childhood ends very badly for children, as it compromises health and education and has long-term consequences, she explained, as physical violence alters brain development, language acquisition, and cognitive development.

Studies show that children exposed to violence are more likely to be both victims and perpetrators of violence later on, Pais said. "We must break this vicious cycle -- it is important for children and society as a whole."

Violence against children costs the world over $7 trillion -- around 8% of global GDP, she said, emphasizing the need to invest in global prevention of such violence.

Family and Children's rights Minister Michael Falzon.
Family and Children's rights Minister Michael Falzon.

"If we build a world free of violence against children, I am confident we will build a world of peace."

In a video presentation by the Children's and Young Person's Councils within the President's Foundation for the Wellbeing of Society, a group of children shared their thoughts on physical violence. "Hurting children just makes them angry and scared," one young participant said. "You can't teach children to be positive if you don't do it in a positive way," said another. "Violence is violence, and nothing justifies violence."

Addressing the conference, Family and Children's Rights Minister Michael Falzon said that there is "overwhelming evidence" that corporal punishment is harmful to children, adults, and societies.

"One of the most basic human rights is the right to live free from the threat of fear or violence. In our view, in better safeguarding the rights, interests, and wellbeing of children, it is of paramount importance that legal provisions are introduced and that policy measured are undertaken, in order to ensure that those persons whom children trust do not punish them - either physically or psychologically."

Falzon stressed that corporal punishment should never be seen as the right tool to correct children, and that positive reinforcement of good behaviour should be used instead.

Corporal punishment became unlawful in homes and alternative care in 2014, when Article 339 of the Criminal Code was amended by Act III.

Although it has not yet been made law, the Child Protection Act of 2017 reinforces the right for the child not to be subject to "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment, including corporal punishment." The Bill is expected to be presented to Parliament this summer.

"While undoubtedly, laws and policies are of utmost importance... these are not enough," the minister said. "Raising public awareness about the negative consequences of corporal punishment is important,"

"It is our responsibility to foster a culture which acknowledges this, a culture that advocates positive attitudes and behaviours in life," he said, adding that the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly has adopted a Recommendation calling for Europe to do away with corporal punishment.