Update: 23.08.2017

Corporal punishment – Switzerland opposes a ban

Art. 11 of the Swiss Federal Constitution states that children have the right to special protection of their integrity. This requirement is supported by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child that was signed by Switzerland almost 20 years ago. Yet in May 2017, the National Council rejected the “Abolition of the right to chastise” motion on the subject.

The motion, launched by National Councillor Chantal Galladé (Social Democratic Party/canton of Zurich), wanted the legislation to be rephrased so that corporal punishment and other humiliating and degrading treatment which could have significant physical and psychological effects on children would be prohibited by the Civil Code. Similar motions had been rejected by Parliament several times before on the grounds that the current legislation provided enough protection for children.

Awareness campaigns

Civil society organisations are disappointed with the decision because, for a long time, they have been waiting for a corresponding legislative change to strengthen protective measures. Some organisations have started their own awareness campaigns to do something about the stalled process on a parliamentary level.

BTen years ago, Terre des hommes (Tdh) launched an international campaign about violence against children, focusing in Switzerland on violence within the family. When the campaign was launched, Tdh reminded everyone that Switzerland ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) in 1997. Switzerland must therefore take all necessary measures to protect children from all forms of violence, as long as they are in the care of their parents or a legal guardian (Art. 19 CRC).

According to a study by Tdh, one in five children under two and a half years of age has suffered corporal punishment. Moreover, one in one hundred children is regularly beaten with an object. These numbers reflect how strongly corporal punishment within families is trivialised. Corporal punishment of children has many forms including beating, violent shaking or pushing, pinching, biting, burning or scalding, hair pulling, or forcing young children to eat. According to Tdh, “all these measures violate the children’s rights, because they harm their physical integrity and abuse their dignity.”

Another campaign was launched in 2013 by the National Coalition Building Institute Switzerland (NCBI Schweiz) called “Keine Daheimnisse” (no secrets about family life).

Can a slap in the face be harmless?

Mild forms of corporal punishment are partially accepted by society. Therefore, the negative effects are frequently underestimated by politicians and the public. Statistics show that in Switzerland 20% of parents do not consider a slap in the face to be violence. But the long-term negative effects and the inefficiency of corporal punishment as an education measure have already been repeatedly proven.

During the debate on the initiative by former National Councillor Ruth-Gaby Vermot in 2008, both the speakers of the parliamentary commission majority, National Councillor Christa Markwalder (Liberal Democratic Party/Canton of Bern), and of its minority, National Councillor Anita Thanei (Social Democratic Party/canton of Zurich), agreed that the corporal punishment of children must be rejected, since it is humiliating and degrading. According to Christa Markwalder, “should a child be punished physically frequently, he or she will learn that violence is a way to resolve conflicts. Children and youths who are exposed to physical violence themselves tend to use violence later in life.”

Children who are exposed to physical punishment frequently feel worthless, rejected and guilty. On a neurological level, corporal punishment has a negative effect on the development and functioning of the brain because of the stress it causes.

Corporal punishment can be traced back to an educational system based on dominance, fear and subjection. This is more acute if the violence happens repeatedly and without explanation. Non-violent punishments based on forbidding something and that are explained to children in a comprehensible manner promote a climate of love and respect in which a child is willing to learn rules and accept them. Participative upbringing without the use of force is in accordance with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the recommendations of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

Violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Art. 37 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits inhuman or degrading treatment and Art. 4
requires member states to implement these rights. Art.19 in particular states that member states must take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect children from all forms of physical and mental violence.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended in 2002 that Switzerland take immediate action to adjust legislation and ban corporal punishment at home and in schools. Corporal punishment for educational reasons must be banned for Switzerland to fulfil the obligations of the Convention. The same year, the Committee published the General Comment No. 1 on the Aims of Education and in 2006 published General Comment No. 8, which focused on the right of children to be protected from corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment. Comment No. 8 also defines corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment. In its General Comment No. 13 published in 2006, the Committee on the Rights of the Child also commented on an article of the Convention that contained comprehensive measures regarding the states’ obligations to protect children.

CoE recommendations

Regional organisations have also addressed the topic. On 24 June 2004, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recommended its member states to ban corporal punishment against children and youths. Switzerland was one of the states who voted in favour of this recommendation.

In June of 2014, the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children published a study showing the global efforts on a complete ban of corporal punishment against minors. It revealed that Switzerland, Belgium, and Italy were the only Western European countries that did not want to take steps towards a general ban of such punishment.

Under the scrutiny of the UPR procedure

In its UPR procedure 2008 framework, the UN Human Rights Council also recommended Switzerland ban corporal punishment against children completely. Although Switzerland accepted this recommendation, it has still not been implemented. A coalition of various NGOs and certain cantonal representatives have been strongly advocating for respective measures.

The NGO report on the third UPR cycle in 2017 also demands Swiss authorities start a legislative process to ban corporal punishment (recommendation 17).

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