At the end of WWI the German and Austro-Hungarian economies were on the verge of collapse and children in these countries were starving. Moved by their suffering, Eglantyne Jebb was arrested for handing out leaflets about their plight in Trafalgar Square. Jebb was from a wealthy, socially conscious family and she spearheaded a fundraising drive to bring relief to these British and Austrian children.
Encouraged by the success of the Save the Children fund drive, Eglantyne and her sister, Dorothy Buxton, founded the International Save the Chidren Union in Geneva in 1920 (now Save the Children) and launched an international movement for the rights of children.
THE HISTORY OF HUMAN RIGHTS FOR CHILDREN
As the war relief efforts wound down, Jebb turned her attention to children’s rights in general. She believed that the rights of a child should be especially protected and enforced. Jebb had a plan for a Children’s Charter and drafted a short document, the first of its kind, that asserted the rights of children and the duty of the international community to prioritize them.
The child rights outlined in Jeb’s original 1923 document:
- The child must be given the means requisite for its normal development, both materially and spiritually.
- The child that is hungry must be fed, the child that is sick must be nursed, the child that is backward must be helped, the delinquent child must be reclaimed, and the orphan and the waif must be sheltered and succored.
- The child must be the first to receive relief in times of distress.
- The child must be put in a position to earn a livelihood, and must be protected against every form of exploitation.
- The child must be brought up in the consciousness that its talents must be devoted to the service of its fellow men.
This document, though unenforceable, was adopted by the International Save the Children Union on February 23, 1923 and endorsed by the League of Nations General Assembly on November 26, 1924. An expanded version of the Declaration was adopted by the United Nations in 1959 and was a major inspiration for the 1989 United Nation Convention on the Rights of the Child, the most universally accepted human rights instrument in history.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is a human rights treaty that sets out the civil, political, economic, social, health and cultural rights of children. It was adopted on November 20, 1989. Currently, 194 countries are party to it, including every member of the United Nations except Somalia, South Sudan, and the United States.
UN COMMITTEE RECOMMENDATIONS ON CORPORAL PUNISHMENT
In 2006, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child adopted a new General Comment on the issue of corporal punishment:
“…to highlight the obligation of all States parties to move quickly to prohibit and eliminate all corporal punishment and all other cruel or degrading forms of punishment of children and to outline legislation and other awareness-raising and educational measures that States must take.”
Cruel and degrading punishment such as “corporal’ or “physical” punishment, whether at home or elsewhere, is defined by the Committee as:
- Force intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.
- Washing mouth out with soap
- Forcing swallowing of hot spices
WHAT OTHER COUNTRIES HAVE DONE
Forty-six countries outlaw domestic corporal punishment, according to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children. At least 51 more countries have expressed a commitment to full prohibition.
THE DETRIMENTAL EFFECTS OF CORPORAL PUNISHMENT
Spanking has a negative effect on low-income toddlers.
College students are more likely to be lawbreakers if they were spanked as children.
A 2009 study showed that children who are spanked have lower IQs.
An important meta-analysis of 88 studies published by Elizabeth Thompson Gershoff in 2002 associated parental corporal punishment with 11 outcomes.
- Immediate compliance
- Decreased moral internalization in childhood
- Increased aggression in both childhood and adulthood
- Delinquent and anti-social behavior in childhood
- Criminal and anti-social behavior in adulthood
- Impaired quality of parent-child relationship in childhood
- Depression and lack of purpose in life in childhood
- Increased likelihood of physical abuse in childhood
- Depressive and alcoholic symptoms in adulthood
- Increased likelihood to use abusive techniques with own children as an adult.
A 2012 study published in Pediatrics correlated a relationship between harsh physical punishment (pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping, and hitting) and increased risk of:
- mood disorders
- anxieity disorders
- alcohol and drug abuse/dependence
- personality disorders
The study concluded,
“From a public health perspective, reducing physical punishment may help to decrease the prevalence of mental disorders in the general population.”
And finally, spanking doesn’t work. Children misbehave within 10 minutes of punishment.
SPANKING IN THE UNITED STATES
Despite the international consensus that corporal punishment of children is a violation of their human rights, US parents continue to debate the pros and cons of spanking their children. Even though there is irrefutable evidence that corporal punishment is detrimental to health, spanking is common among US parents. Recent studies report that 45% to 95% of US children were spanked in the last year. US parents mostly spank children under five and do so infrequently, once or twice a month. A 2014 study showed that at least 30% of one-year-olds were spanked at least once a month by one of their parents.
Spanking in Schools. The US has started to prohibit corporal punishment in schools. In 2008, 223,190 students were hit in US schools. Currently, 31 states plus the District of Columbia have banned the use of corporal punishment in schools.
NoSpank Day. In 1998, EPOCH-USA (End Physical Punishment of Children) initiated SpankOut Day USA, to promote nonviolent ways of teaching children appropriate behavior. Held on April 30th every year, SpankOutDay encourages adults to refrain from hitting children and instead seek alternative methods of discipline.
Peggy O’Mara is the editor and publisher of peggyomara.com. She was the editor and publisher of Mothering Magazine from 1980 to 2011 and founded Mothering.com in 1995. The author of Having a Baby Naturally; Natural Family Living; The Way Back Home; and A Quiet Place, Peggy has conducted workshops at Omega Institute, Esalen, La Leche League, and Bioneers. She is the mother of four and grandmother of three.