Poll: Majority of Czechs oppose ban on physical punishment

Last month the Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Džamila Stehlíková proposed legislation which would ban the spanking or smacking of children on the grounds that in some cases such treatment can border on child abuse. The introduction of such legislation would see the Czech Republic join other EU countries, including neighbouring Germany. But so far, a majority of ordinary Czechs have said they are against such a move.

Most Czech parents don’t think twice about spanking a naughty child, even in public, but that could soon change. Last month the Minister for Human Rights and Minorities Džamila Stehlíková proposed the Czech Republic join a number of EU countries already sending a clear and resounding message: that physical punishment of children will not tolerated. So far in the Czech Republic debate on the subject has been heated: on the one hand, critics say the country already has sufficient legislation on child abuse. On the other, there are many who think that an outright ban couldn’t hurt. Zuzana Baudyšová is the head of the Our Child Foundation supporting the rights of children:

“It’s true that the proposal is somewhat provocative and it has caused a stir: but as someone involved in the protection of children I don’t think such legislation can hurt. It can only help children who are at risk of severe physical and even psychological abuse. Parents who are unafraid to cross the line now would know in the future that such behaviour is forbidden. At the same time, I personally admit there are moments when a mild spanking is better than some psychological forms of punishment, such as grounding or the silent treatment.”

Other child psychologists agree an out-and-out ban would be a good thing, arguing that physical punishment can have negative effects on one’s upbringing. But so far at least many parents disagree: in a poll released on Tuesday by the Median agency for the newspaper Lidové noviny, three-fifths of respondents said they were against such legislation. At the same time, only a quarter said they ever resorted to occasional physical punishment and that, if they did, then only its milder forms: a light cuff on the ear or smack on the bottom. That said, heart-rending cases of abuse are uncovered each year, and for that reason many experts say the legislation needs to be toughened. Zuzana Baudyšová again:

“Mrs Stehlíková is the first minister to stand up directly for children’s rights and that is a good thing. The current legislation on child abuse doesn’t outline fully forms of abuse and could benefit from amendment. And it would be beneficial to outline exactly what is forbidden. On the other hand, it is sometimes more difficult to push through an amendment than an entirely new bill. It is also important that any new legislation not just cover the situation in homes but also in schools and other institutions.”

Mrs Baudyšová stresses that cases of even the severest abuse are not uncommon. Tragically 20 toddlers in the Czech Republic last year alone were tortured to death by their parents.