Minister wants ban on physical punishment of children

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The majority of Czech parents usually don’t think twice about smacking their naughty children, and would explain that “to spare the rod is to spoil the child”. However, this age-old philosophy may soon shake in its foundations. The minister responsible for human rights and minorities Džamila Stehlíková has just proposed a ban on smacking children, arguing that in some cases it can border on child abuse. The public may take some convincing but many psychologists say that is the way to go. Ruth Fraňková reports:

Petra Vrtbovská
According to statistical data, some eighty percent of Czech parents occasionally spank their offspring. Minister Stehlíková recently confessed that she herself used to smack her daughter from time to time when she misbehaved. Today she thinks that was a mistake. Excessive corporal punishment, she says, poses a risk to a child’s psychological development and those who have been exposed to it tend to be more aggressive as parents and partners in their later life. Child psychologist Petra Vrtbovská explains why she supports the idea of a ban:

“To be entirely honest, I firmly believe that physical punishment has always got some negative effect on children. Of course parents need to discipline their children in some way and it is very important that they set certain boundaries for children’s behaviour. But I disagree with the idea that this should be done through physical punishment, with a smacking or even a beating. So I would vote against physical punishment. I think that such legislation could be good.”

The Council of Europe has been promoting a complete ban on physical punishment of children and a third of all EU member states have already adopted it. In Germany, for instance, violence against children is said to have dropped significantly after the ban was introduced. Critics argue that the occasional spanking has nothing to do with child abuse. But Mrs Vrtbovská points out that there is always an alternative way of exerting one’s authority over children:

“Some parents use physical punishment because it’s quick and easy. You smack the child and consider the matter closed. But corporal punishment has a negative effect on children because it can be very humiliating and the memory may stay with them for a long time. So parents should find other ways how to control their children’s behaviour.

“For instance when my child does something I don’t want him or her to do, lets say fighting with a sibling, I can always intervene and explain that I do not accept such behaviour. I can separate them and set some ground rules – warning them that if it happens again then a given punishment will follow - such as sitting with me in the kitchen. But if I just go there and beat them up it isn’t going to help. It will just provoke more aggression.”

Petra Vrtbovská doesn’t think that the law would radically alter people’s behaviour. But she believes the ban could have a good effect on Czech society, by raising public awareness of the problem, opening a discussion and pushing parents to think about other ways of controlling their children’s behaviour.

Mrs Stehlíková will now recommend the proposed law to the Government Council for Human Rights. She too is aware of the fact that pushing it through will not be easy in a country where corporal punishment is seen as a normal part of growing up.