Spanking and other forms of corporal punishment against children need to be banned in all European states before they become a health or social issue, the Council of Europe warned.
"We're hoping to have a corporal punishment-free zone which is called Europe," the council's deputy secretary-general Maud de Boer-Buquicchio told AFP at a two-day conference on violence against children in Vienna.
So far, 21 countries have banned corporal punishment against children, but there is still strong opposition to legislation in countries like France and Britain, where parents see such measures as an invasion of their private sphere.
"What we need to explain is that we do not challenge their parental authority and the need to provide a disciplinary framework for the children," said de Boer-Buquicchio. "What we want to challenge is the use of violence in order to do that."
'Degrading aspect' of smack lingers
Parents needed a "push" to use other methods to educate or discipline their children, because the effects could be felt in the long term, she noted.
"It's not for the parents to say whether a smack is mild... it's the perception of the child which matters."
"And even if physical pain is not obvious, it's the humiliation, the degrading aspect of the punishment, which can hurt much more even and have much longer term effects than direct physical pain."
While children were naturally protected under human rights rules, they required special attention because they did not have a voice, she argued.
"Nobody hears them, so it's our responsibility to take care of them. And it's not a question of interfering with private life, it's a duty to interfere. Children are not mini-human beings with mini-human rights," she added.
The 47-member Council of Europe, an organisation promoting and protecting democracy and human rights, has set up guidelines with EU, UN and NGO representatives, to encourage states to pass legislation protecting children.
But de Boer-Buquicchio warned that with many states engulfed in financial crises, such concerns may now be ignored, - (Sapa, May 2010)