Ombudsman wants parents punished for smacking their children

Parents that hit or beat their children are breaking the law according to the Polish constitution which prohibits citizens being assaulted. Poland’s Ombudsman for Citizen Rights Janusz Kochanowski has expressed his concern at the laws lack of enforcement on this issue, where he considers even a slight smack to a child a crime. In a recent letter to the Minister for Justice Zbigniew Cwiakalski, Kochanowski outlined his concern at a legal convention in the Polish justice system that has led to non-prosecution of parents for hitting their children “in light of the fact that the child was physically punished only when they deserved it.”

Kochanowski wants to see every parent who physically punishes his or her child in front of a judge for assault. Social conventions towards children having individual rights to fair treatment and protection from harm only emerged in Western society less than a century ago. This is not the case globally, as children are still exploited for their labor and sold into servitude or slavery in many parts of the world. And in the case of Western countries such as Poland where laws against child abuse are in place, enforcement is patchy especially with regards to physical discipline in the family.

Ombudsman Kochanowski points out that the National Penal Register records only 10 cases sentenced for bodily violations against children between Sep. 1998 and Dec. 2005, whilst 2,138 people were sentenced during the same period for violations against adults. Set against research undertaken by the Ministry of Labor and Social Policy in 2007 where 26 percent of parents admitted using physical violence towards their son and 18 percent towards their daughter, it is evident that social convention is circumventing lawful administration. Additionally, a study by the Centre of Social Opinion Research found that 22 percent of parents physically punished their children with 63 percent surveyed stating they were punished by smacks in their childhood, of which 38 percent were beaten with a strap or other item.

Psychologists promote rewarding over punishment for behavior modification with children, arguing that physical punishment has negative effects on a child’s development. Most Poles surveyed on use of physical punishment for children disagree, with only 12 percent saying it causes negative outcomes. Kochanowski says the use of physical punishment cannot be excused by tradition or custom. “Any physical punishment, even moderate or rational, is not excusable,” said Kochanowski. In Poland there is a popular belief that physical punishment is an essential part of bringing up children. Kochanowski argues that using physical punishment violates a child’s dignity which is enshrined in the Polish Constitution and UN Convention on Rights of the Child to which Poland is a signatory. “Respecting human dignity and its protection is an obligation of the public authorities,” said Kochanowski.

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