Trinidad and Tobago Humanist Association

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Corporal Punishment • Violence Against Children

"Children are entitled to care, security, and a good upbringing. Children are to be treated with respect for their person and individuality and may not be subjected to physical punishment or other injurious or humiliating treatment." - Swedish Parents' Code 1979.

The Swedish experience ...

"For 5 years, from 1979-1984, Sweden was unique in the industrialized world for having passed the first explicit ban on corporal punishment. To many of us, particularly those of us living in North America, this appears to have been a radical and, to some, intrusive legal development. However, from the Swedish perspective, the law was the logical conclusion of an evolutionary process that unfolded over a period of decades."

The Swedish Ban on Corporal Punishment • History and Effects • Joan E Durrant PhD

From Family Violence Against Children: A Challenge for Society, Walter de Gruyter & Co., Berlin, New York, 1996. (pp.19-25)

"The purpose of the law was to make it clear to Swedish citizens that hitting children is not permitted. It was also intended to educate parents about the importance of giving their children good care. It removed what could be construed as a silent sanction of corporal punishment and is the culmination of an evolutionary process that saw Swedish society increasingly reject corporal punishment as a means of educating children and increasingly recognize the rights of children as individuals. It was the educational component of the law that was seen as most important, rather than the potential for legal penalties."

Page TopThe Swedish corporal punishment law has been very effective in shaping a social consensus regarding the rejection of corporal punishment in childrearing. However, the law's implementation and the attitude shift that accompanied it cannot be viewed in isolation from the social context in which it developed. The social developments that led up to its implementation include:

  1. The growth of a strong children's rights movement, represented by two prominent and influential organizations, Rädda Barnen (Swedish Save the Children) and Barnens Rätt i Samhallet (Children's Rights in Society). These organizations have contributed to a high degree of public recognition of children's status as persons.

  2. A collectivist orientation that places children's welfare at the centre of social policy formulation. This orientation is manifested in Sweden's highly developed and heavily subsidized day care system, generous parental leaves, parental sickness insurance, children's dental insurance, and a broad array of welfare measures that have reduced the child poverty rate to less than 2% (Smeeding, 1992).

  3. A focus on preparation for parenthood. For example, at all levels of education, students are educated about responsible parenthood. Baby-care courses include a parent training component, prenatal classes are accessible to all expectant parents, and support groups for parents of young children are available at community health centers. All such services are provided free of charge.

Page TopTogether with the nonpunitive nature of the corporal punishment law, these measures increase the likelihood that parents who find themselves relying on physical force to raise their children will seek assistance and/or be identified early in the cycle that often leads to abuse. This coherent preventive approach has resulted in broad public support for the abolition of corporal punishment and commitment to the eradication of child abuse.

Since Sweden passed its law, four other countries have done the same: Finland (1984), Denmark (1986), Norway (1987), and Austria (1989).* In 1985, the Council of Europe Committee of Ministers recommended that member states review their legislation on corporal punishment in order to limit or prohibit it, even if violation does not necessarily entail a criminal penalty. The Swedish experience can be very instructive in this regard, because it provides evidence for the effectiveness of such measures in altering societal attitudes toward the use of physical force in childrearing.

* Cyprus and Italy have now also banned physical punishment of children.


See: TT Humanist : Views : Parenting

See: TT Humanist : Forum : Commentary



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