Skip to comments.UN agency scolds Canada for allowing spanking
Posted on 10/08/2003 10:03:16 AM PDT by knighthawk
UNITED NATIONS - The UN has told the Canadian government to ban all forms of corporal punishment of youngsters -- including even a light slap.
The ruling, handed down by a committee of the world body, comes as a poll yesterday showed Canadians are evenly split when it comes to spanking by Mom or Dad, but on the whole against allowing teachers to hit children.
Spanking is also before the Supreme Court of Canada, which is weighing a petition to repeal a federal law that lets parents, teachers or guardians apply "reasonable force" to discipline a minor.
Traditional family rights groups in Canada yesterday expressed dismay at the UN ruling, but children's rights groups are expected to use it to boost their calls for stricter laws.
Ottawa appeared to be for and against the ruling at the same time.
"While the government does not support spanking of children, it is also against the criminalization of parents for lightly disciplining their kids," said Chris Girouard, spokesman for the Department of Justice. "It's whatever is in the child's best interests."
The UN ruling was issued after Ottawa sent a large delegation of experts and government officials to Geneva, where the 18 experts of the world body's Committee on Rights of the Child questioned them on Canada's child care record. In a report, the committee says Canada should "adopt legislation to remove the existing authorization of the use of 'reasonable force' in disciplining children, and explicitly prohibit all forms of violence against children, however light, within the family, in schools and in other institutions where children might be placed."
As a signatory of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, Canada is obliged to make periodic appearances before the committee. The rulings of such treaty committees cannot override national law, but Ottawa tries to accommodate their recommendations to give the UN an argument for encouraging the spread of international norms.
Liberal Senator Landon Pearson led the Canadian delegation as Jean Chrétien's personal representative, but her spokeswoman said yesterday she would not be available for comment because the issue is also before the Supreme Court.
Yesterday, Toronto Public Health released results of a survey of more than 2,000 Canadians showing 51% believe parents should be prevented from using physical force against children. The figure rose to 60% if guidelines were in place to prevent prosecution for "mild spanking" and 69% said teachers should be banned from hitting children. The margin of error of the survey -- a few percentage points either way -- suggests Canadians are evenly split when it comes to spanking without guidelines.
Based on that, conservative groups say Ottawa is deferring too much to the world body.
"This ruling is another example of the UN infringing on our own national concerns," said John-Henry Westen, spokesman for LifeSiteNews.com, an online monitor of family values.
"When a child is young and cannot understand, a tap on the hand is essential for training. We have a wood-burning stove that gets very hot. It's ridiculous that I can't save my child from burning himself by tapping his hand away from it."
In an interview from Geneva yesterday, the committee member responsible for communicating with Canada said such a child would learn quickly enough not to touch a hot stove.
"If he puts his hand on a hot oven, he will be burnt and he will not do it again," said Moushira Khattab of Egypt. Ms. Khattab admitted to having lightly disciplined her own two children, now adults. But she added she now knows better.
"There are other means," she said. "Children are very smart, and even when they are as young as two or three months old, they will understand if you have a tough look, or change the tone of your voice, or turn away from them.
"The body language is the first language that they know. This hurts much more than a spank."
The committee routinely tells every country that appears before it to pass laws banning corporal punishment. Only the United States and Somalia are not members of the convention and so are not subject to the committee's rulings.
The Supreme Court is expected to rule before the end of the year on the constitutionality of the "spanking law" after hearing arguments on June 6 by the Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law that it violates the right of all Canadians to be treated equally.
"If you hit an adult, it is an assault, but if you hit a child in the context of discipline, it is justified under our current law," said Cheryl Milne, the lawyer who argued the case. "The UN committee ... agrees with that very strongly -- that countries should be prohibiting all forms of corporal punishment of children."
The committee also said Canada should do more to help aboriginal children, who suffer far higher rates of suicide and drug abuse than the average Canadian child, and account for a disproportionately high percentage of children in state care.
On child care for working families, the committee said Canada should provide affordable facilities across the country.
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