There is no more powerful symbol of the low status of children, with and without disabilities, than the legal and social acceptance of corporal punishment – violence inflicted on children by parents, teachers, caregivers and others in the name of "discipline".
Much violence against children often referred to as "abuse" is corporal punishment – adults using violent and other humiliating methods to control children. Social acceptance of corporal punishment is linked to tolerance of violence in other areas, including domestic violence and violence against adults with disabilities.
There has been accelerating progress towards law reform in Africa, with five African states prohibiting all corporal punishment, including in the home, and 24 states prohibiting it in all schools.
However, the pace of reform is still slow. Too many governments on the one hand claim to support ending all forms of violence against children, with and without disabilities, while on the other they fail to prohibit violence disguised as discipline or punishment. Prohibiting and eliminating all corporal punishment is an essential issue for all organisations working for the rights of children with disabilities to be free from violence.
The human rights imperative to prohibit all corporal punishment
The Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, has consistently made it clear that the Convention requires prohibition of all corporal punishment in all settings – the home, schools, penal systems and alternative care settings. In its General Comment No. 8 (2006) the Committee consolidated and confirmed these obligations, and it systematically recommends prohibition in its concluding observations.
The UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states that children with disabilities should enjoy human rights on an equal basis with other children (article 7) and that everyone has the right to freedom from torture, exploitation, violence and abuse within and outside the home and to respect for their physical and mental integrity (articles 15-17).
The monitoring bodies of other international treaties also increasingly recommend prohibition and the issue is regularly raised in the Universal Periodic Review of states’ overall human rights records.
The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child states that children who are mentally or physically disabled have the right to special measures of protection in keeping with their physical and moral needs and under conditions which ensure dignity and promote self-reliance and active participation in the community (article 13.1).
Respect for child's dignity
The Charter also requires states to ensure that discipline by parents and at school respects the child’s human dignity (articles 11 and 20) and that children are protected from all forms of torture and inhuman or degrading treatment by parents and others caring for the child (article 16) and in detention (article 17).
The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights states that everyone should have equal protection of the law (article 3), respect for personal integrity (article 4) and respect for human dignity (article 5) and prohibits torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment and treatment (article 5).
Like other children, children with disabilities experience painful and degrading corporal punishment in the home, school, penal system and other settings in which they are cared for, in Africa as in all other world regions. A major UNICEF study in more than 30 low- and middle-income countries found that on average 75% of children experienced physical punishment and/or psychological aggression, with 17% on average experiencing severe physical punishment,1 while another UNICEF study found that children with disabilities were significantly more likely to experience severe physical punishment than other children in seven of the 15 countries studied, including Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ghana and Sierra Leone.
A study on violence against children with disabilities in Cameroon, Ethiopia, Senegal, Uganda and Zambia found that 52% of the sample had been beaten as children, and more than half of those who had been beaten had suffered broken bones, teeth, bleeding or bruising. Corporal punishment is the direct cause of many children’s physical disabilities, and is a risk factor for mental health problems in childhood and adulthood.
Briefing prepared by the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children www.endcorporalpunishment.org; email@example.com, May 2012
(Press release, June 2012)