Corporal punishment: Should the UN be allowed to ban it?

By Antonia Feitz
web posted January 10, 2000

When I was a child, it was my job to set the table for dinner. Yes, kiddiwinks, we used to sit around the table, not the television, in the old days. For a brief time, along with the cutlery and crockery I was told to include a privet switch as part of the table-setting. My mother must have become exasperated with her unproductive nagging about table manners. The blitz didn't last all that long, but for the duration woe betide any child who ate noisily, or with an open mouth, or had elbows on the table, or who failed to pass on the pepper and salt unasked. There was no nagging anymore, just a light sting on the forearm to remind the offender. We all paid very close attention to our table manners, and consequently meal times became pleasant again.

With forty years hindsight, I would regard my mother's behavior as eccentric. But under proposed national law reforms being considered by the Australia's attorneys-general, her actions would be regarded as criminal assault, and she would be liable to a gaol sentence. So why are the nation's attorneys general bothering themselves about such trivial domestic matters? Surely there must be weightier matters of state demanding their attention?

Well it's the same old story: yet more intrusion into our daily lives by the UN. In August 1990, Australia signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, and ratified it three months later. It seems a UN Committee supervises each nation's compliance with the Convention by requiring reports, and in August 1998 the Joint Parliamentary Committee on Treaties (JPCT) released Australia's Report.

Over 630 submissions had been received, and the majority of them denounced the Convention as an unwarranted interference in the family. Despite this, the JPCT's report recommended the Convention be implemented in full. So much for democracy in Australia. As a result, all existing federal and state legislation, policies and practices must be reviewed to determine their compliance with the Convention.

Consequently the parasitical bureaucracy continues to bloat: a Federal Office for Children is to be established. Showing their blatant anti-parent bias, the JPCT flatly rejected a proposal for an Office for the Family because "the interests of the family and children do not always coincide, and an office of the family may have a different focus and children may not be given priority". As well, the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission will probably be expanded, and worse, the Convention will be taught in schools so the little darlings know their 'rights'. It's a pity the schools don't teach the little darlings their responsibilities as well.

The Report acknowledges that Articles 13-16 of the Convention may be seen as undermining parental authority, but recommends a propaganda - whoops - an education campaign to allay parental concern. Just look at these doozy 'rights' which overpampered Western children have been granted, while hundreds of millions of children worldwide lack basic education or even clean water. It's typical of UN priorities, and telling evidence that the organization ought to be given the chop.

  • Article 12 deals with the child's freedom of expression
  • Article 13 deals with the child's right to receive information
  • Article 14 deals with the child's right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion
  • Article 15 will make it difficult for parents to prevent their children from associating with bad company
  • Article 16 claims a right to privacy.

Recommendation 43 spells out the "information programme" -ie propaganda - necessary to promote alternative discipline, because Articles 19 and 37 of the Convention prohibit "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" of children. Fair enough. But our social engineers include the parental use of the wooden spoon or a switch as "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".

In January 1997, a working group of the UN Committee asked the Australian government to explain why it had not banned corporal punishment in Australian homes. At the Paris meeting, the Australian delegates were adamant that the Australian population would simply not accept a total ban on corporal punishment. No problem. It will be accomplished in stages. As the first step, the nation's attorneys general have proposed that parents be restricted to using an open hand in the corporal punishment of their children. And after a propaganda campaign against corporal punishment, it will then become a criminal offense.

These proposals are not only a gross interference in family life, they are plain stupid. A brutal adult could send a child flying with an open hand. Yet under the proposed law 'reforms' this would be acceptable, while a light smack with a wooden spoon or privet switch would be a criminal offence.

For far too long now, various 'experts' of politically correct persuasions have been allowed to get away with the mischief of equating the physical chastisement of children with child abuse. In fact the two have absolutely nothing in common. The first is usually mild, restrained, fair and has beneficial results. The second is brutal, unrestrained, out of proportion and has very bad results. Nobody approves of brutality to children, and there are existing laws to punish offenders who ill-treat them. The proposed 'reforms' are nothing but yet another PC assault on the family and a groveling to the UN.

Opponents of physical punishment of children indulge in some questionable tactics in pursuit of their goal. Like feminists, they try to high jack the language: 'punishing' a child is now 'beating' a child, though the two words have quite different meanings. And they generate myths too. For example they claim that physical punishment demonstrates ineffective parenting because parents resort to 'violence' - another example of high jacking the language.

A parent who continually smacked would indeed be demonstrating poor discipline, but such a parent is a straw man. Most parents use a range of disciplinary techniques, and some like to include the option of physical punishment as a last resort. On an Internet discussion on corporal punishment of children, a father related how five years ago he took his belt to two of his children. They'd pushed too far - so he let them swiftly and painfully find out what came after being sent to their rooms/being grounded/allowance cut/denied TV etc. He said he has never had any trouble from them since. The boundaries were set, his authority was reestablished, and there was peace in the home.

Contrary to the mythmakers' assertions, but consonant with common sense, physical punishment is rarely employed precisely because it is effective! In any case, many of the suggested alternatives are worse. A deserved belting over and done with is surely preferable to being 'grounded' for two weeks. Surely it's a matter for parents to decide, not the government, let alone the UN.

Another claim is that physical punishment results in psychological problems and aggression: Hitler was beaten as a child, and look at him. Well, Hitler was a vegetarian too. So what? The claim simply does not stand up. Increasingly researchers are showing that other factors, such as the lack of warmth and affection between parent and child, are far more important in psychological disturbances than any physical punishment.

A few years ago there was a reunion at our local two-teacher primary school. The highlight of the day for many ex-students was inspecting the punishment book. Burly farmers, successful businessmen and women, people who were now grandparents chortled and ribbed one another as they read out the offences for which they had been punished so many years ago. They had received between one and (never more than) six strokes of the cane for fighting, swearing, messy work (!), smoking, throwing rocks, hitting girls, insolence, etc. Now adults, they all had only the highest regard for their teachers. Far from banning corporal punishment of children, perhaps it ought to be re-instated if it produced such well-adjusted, successful and cheerful adults.

In homes where they are used, the wooden spoon or the belt are akin to the Roman lictor's fasces - symbols of parental authority, and rarely used. Parents are the best placed to raise their children in love and the discipline they see fit. Governments and the UN ought to butt out.

Australia's Antonia Feitz is a senior writer for Enter Stage Right.

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