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Spare the rod! UN committee calls for law to prevent parents from slapping children

Published:Sunday | February 8, 2015 | 12:00 AM

Erica Virtue, Senior Gleaner Writer

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child is urging Jamaica to pass a law to abolish corporal punishment.

The body considers corporal punishment to be violence against children and made the recommendation for a full ban in the final report on Jamaica, following a visit and presentation by a Jamaican delegation to its meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, three weeks ago.

The committee was responding to concerns on corporal punishment contained in a report submitted by local human-rights group Jamaicans for Justice (JFJ).

"Corporal punishment is still highly prevalent in Jamaica. Reports of child abuse are alarmingly common, yet there has been insufficient action at the legislative and policy level to combat this," said the JFJ.

"Article 19 of the [UN Convention on the Rights of the Child] stipulates that children have the right to be protected from all forms of violence ...," noted JFJ.

The lobby said the Government has failed to make the necessary legislative changes to prohibit all forms of physical and mental violence, which it said was part of the committee's recommendation in 2003.

While acknowledging that commendable measures,
such as the passage of the Child Care and Protection Act (CCPA), have
been made, the JFJ said "... corporal punishment in the home
and schools - where it most prevalent - still awaits legislative action …
."

The committee, too, also acknowledged
progress, but agreed with the JFJ that corporal punishment should be
abolished everywhere.

"The committee,
however, is concerned that corporal punishment remains lawful in the
home and schools, is widely accepted in society, and continues to be
practised in the state party,"
read a section of the
recommendations in the final report for
Jamaica.

"In line with its general comment,
article number 8 (2006) on the right of the child to protection from
corporal punishment, and general comment article number 13 (2011) on the
right of the child to freedom from all forms of violence, the committee
recommends that the state party: (a) Amend its legislation to
explicitly prohibit corporal punishment in all settings, including the
family, schools and institutions, and explicitly repeal the common law
right to inflict 'reasonable and moderate' punishment … ,"
it
said.

Youth Minister Lisa Hanna, who led the Jamaican
delegation to Geneva, last week updated The Sunday
Gleaner
on her response to the UN body.

"I
told them the issue is being reviewed in the CCPA, but it requires
significant dialogue with the Jamaican population. I also told them that
as minister, I could not make that commitment without having that
national dialogue."

Hanna said even without the
specific legislation, parents who abuse their children have been
arrested and charged by the police.

PARENTS COULD BE
CHARGED

"The implication of such a legislation is that
a mother or father could be criminally charged for slapping their
child. That is something for which I cannot take a personal decision to
impact an entire population," said Hanna.

"This could
be done though community meetings with the relevant child agencies and
their representatives, such as the Child Development Agency, Office of
the Children's Registry, [and the ministries of] National Security,
Justice, and Youth and Culture."

Head of the National
Parenting Support Commission, Patrece Charles, said a clear definition
of corporal punishment is required, and any legislation contemplated or
required must take into consideration the Jamaican
experience.

"In that definition must be a clear
demarcation between physical abuse and disciplining a child. And until
you can give me some form of evidence-based study that says the majority
of Jamaicans have an authoritarian type of parenting style, and that
they punish, beat and threaten children as a means of discipline, I
don't think we should rush into anything."

Like Hanna,
Charles said the issue requires national dialogue, and were the country
to rush into anything, things could become "so ridiculous that if you
shout at your child in public, the State could take him or her from
you".

erica.virtue@gleanerjm.