Ireland is one of the few countries in the European Union that still lacks clear legislation against corporal punishment in the home.
Physical punishment against children has been illegal in Irish schools since 1996, but “reasonable chastisement” protects caregivers in charge of less than three children as well as parents, and relatives who use smacking as a form of discipline.
In 2013, the Association for the Protection of All Children (APPROACH), a UK-based watch-dog group, brought a complaint against Ireland before the Council of Europe.
Now, the European Committee of Social Rights has found Ireland to be in violation of Article 17 of the European Social Charter, which ensures women and children to social and economic protection and prohibits corporal punishment and other "cruel or degrading forms of punishment of children."
The ruling has resulted in increased pressure on the Irish government to address “reasonable chastisement” and outlaw corporal punishment in the home entirely.
Following the ruling, Minister for Children James Reilly said that would put in place “regulations for not just foster care, but also residential care and care of the state” concerning corporal punishment, such as smacking.
“Those regulations will come in via statutory instruments under my own remit as Minister for Children,” he said.
However, he also noted that “The Non Fatal Offences against the Person Act of 1997 and section 2.46 of the Children’s Act 2001 make cruelty to children illegal. It is also an offence to assault, mistreat or abandon a child,” and added that he doesn’t think smacking is a common form of discipline among Irish parents anymore.
“We don’t intend reaching into everyone’s home. Parents these days use other methods of raising their children and disciplining them,” he said.
The Irish government’s Growing Up in Ireland study lends some support to this claim. It found that 58% of nine-year-olds were never smacked, nor were less than 1% of three-year-olds.
But APPROACH, the group that lodged the complaint against Ireland, cited research showing that 25% of parents still hit their children.
The Children’s Rights Alliance called for Ireland to up its standards of protection for children to match those of other EU countries.
“In recent days, the world has witnessed Ireland’s decision to introduce marriage equality and is now asking — how can children not yet have equal protection in the law?” Tanya Ward, Alliance chief executive, told the Irish Examiner.
“Violence against children, including corporal punishment, is a major abuse of their human rights, and equal protection under the law must be guaranteed to them.”
To date, 46 countries around the world have completely outlawed corporal punishment against children. It is still legal in the US, Canada and Australia.
Other EU countries that still allow parents to hit their children include Armenia, Estonia and Georgia.
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