Special Representative of the UN Secretary General Santos Pais,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I would like to start by thanking the Swedish government for having taken the initiative of organising this very important meeting on the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
I cannot think of a better time and a better place to host such an event.
After all, thirty-five years ago Sweden was the first country to vote for the prohibition of corporal punishment against children.
We must never forget that abolishing corporal punishment is not only a cultural choice.
It is not only a political choice.
It is above all a human rights imperative.
Corporal punishment is a violation of children’s rights to physical integrity.
It is a breach of their human dignity and equal protection under the law.
Corporal punishment teaches children that violence is an acceptable method for getting people to do what they want.
It conditions them to use violence themselves.
There are some people who try to justify using violence to discipline their children by claiming that “a little slap can do no harm”.
But a little slap can do harm.
It can have irreversible harmful consequences, both physical and psychological.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Sadly, this form of abuse and cruelty still occurs much too often.
Hitting and humiliating children remains a very common form of punishment in much of Europe.
Only about 30% of Europe’s children live in states which have effective prohibition of all corporal punishment.
Studies show that a majority of children are hit, including babies and very young children.
Some are hit with belts.
Some are hit with sticks.
Some are hit with shoes.
This is unacceptable.
For almost three decades now, the Council of Europe has strongly encouraged member States to prohibit corporal punishment.
Progress has been made.
Over the years, our efforts have been strengthened by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, whose twenty-fifth anniversary we celebrate today.
Our struggle has also been supported by numerous judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, together with recommendations of the Committee of Ministers and the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe.
More than that, the Council of Europe has developed a number of international treaties which target the protection of children’s rights, their well-being and dignity.
The latest addition is the “Convention on preventing and combating violence against women and domestic violence”, the “Istanbul Convention”, which will enter into force on the first of August this year.
In its provisions it addresses both children as direct victims of physical, sexual and psychological violence as well as children who witness such violence among their parents.
Without a doubt, we have come a long way in the struggle for legal and political standards regarding corporal punishment against children.
And yet we still have a long way to go.
Twenty-six countries in Europe have since followed Sweden’s example and have prohibited corporal punishment against children. Ten more European countries have stated their intention to do so.
But the remaining eleven Council of Europe member States have not yet committed themselves.
I call upon these eleven states to recognise the struggle against corporal punishment against children as a priority.
We cannot stop until we have abolished corporal punishment everywhere.
In penal institutions.
In alternative care structures.
And, and above all, at home.
We cannot stop until we have the full commitment of all of our 47 member States.
Only then can we ensure that the 150 million children living in Europe are provided with equal protection of their physical integrity and human dignity.
That is why, in our work to support member States, we have asked decision-makers to take three specific measures which are crucial if we are to make Europe a corporal punishment-free zone for children.
They are as follows.
First, to introduce a ban in legislation.
Second, to develop policies in support of positive parenting.
And third, to raise public awareness on children’s rights.
Our experience tells us that the most difficult measure of the three is to gain political support for the legal ban itself.
Why is this so?
In many European countries corporal punishment by parents remains socially acceptable.
The debate around the prohibition of corporal punishment is a very emotional one.
It challenges established traditions, long-held attitudes and beliefs.
For many people, corporal punishment is a private matter.
They see it as part of the “sacred” and “inviolable” family space.
Many adults feel that the very principles of their own upbringing and education are being put in question.
There are those who believe that the prohibition of corporal punishment would mark the end of parental discipline and authority.
They think that it would increase the number of social service interventions.
That it would trigger unnecessary legal prosecution against parents or even push parents towards the use of more psychological violence.
This is not the case.
Extensive research and the experience of countries that have banned corporal punishment show that none of these fears are justified.
Taking action against corporal punishment might be unpopular with politicians and the public.
But it must be done.
For us to succeed, we will need courage and determination.
Again, the example of Sweden gives me hope.
Sweden was brave enough to challenge the majority view already back in the 1970s.
In those days, spanking, slapping and smacking were the established norms for disciplining children in most countries.
Thanks to Sweden’s spearheading work and its readiness to share experience, positive change is within our reach.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
Changing policies and legislation is very important.
But we must do more than that.
We must develop advice and training services for parents.
We must raise public awareness.
We must turn society away from violence.
This is what the Council of Europe has been doing.
Our ongoing “Building a Europe for and with Children” programme has placed anti-violence at the very centre of our agenda.
This is also the case for the three consecutive “Strategies for the Right of the Child.”
A few years ago the Council of Europe launched a campaign entitled “Raise your hand against smacking”, to accelerate progress for a Europe-wide ban on corporal punishment.
We believed then – as we do now – that we need to refute the myths around the effectiveness and supposed legitimacy of violent discipline.
The time has come to finally make Europe a corporal punishment-free zone for children in Europe and beyond.
Our past achievements remind us that success is within our reach.
For example, under the Council of Europe’s lead, our continent has come a long way in combatting violence against women.
Within the framework of the Lanzarote Convention and the Council of Europe One in Five Campaign we have also seen impressive results in our fight to eradicate the sexual exploitation of children.
Time and again we have shown to the world how much can be achieved when we join forces towards achieving a common goal.
Now the time has come to once again use this spirit of co-operation in order to finally make Europe a corporal punishment-free zone for children.
For its part, the Council of Europe is ready to do whatever it takes to keep the issue high on the political agenda and help our member States make this happen.
For all those who still doubt whether this is the right way forward, I call on you to consider the following fundamental questions.
Our societies have made progress in eliminating physical pain and humiliation from the lives of adults — why do we not apply the same standards to children?
Why are children left out of the evolution of our societies?
Why are we ready to inflict on children what in the case of adults would most likely be considered as a criminal assault?
I would like to close with the words of the wonderful Swedish writer Astrid Lindgren, most famous for her Pippi Longstocking books.
In 1978, one year before the Swedish parliament prohibited corporal punishment against children, Lindgren told a thought-provoking story on why she didn’t believe in disciplining children using violent means.
This is what she said.
"When I was 20 years old, I met an old pastor's wife who told me that when she was young she didn't believe in striking children although spanking kids with a small branch pulled from a tree was standard punishment at the time.
But one day, when her son was four or five, he did something that she felt warranted a spanking – the first in his life.
She told him that he would have to go outside and find a branch for her to hit him with.
The boy was gone for a long time.
He returned crying.
He said to his mother, "Mama, I couldn't find a branch, but here's a rock that you can throw at me."
All of a sudden the mother understood how it must have felt from the child’s point of view: if my mother wants to hurt me, it makes no difference what she does it with; she might as well do it with a stone.
And the mother took the boy onto her lap and they both cried.
She then put the rock on a shelf in the kitchen as an eternal reminder never to use violence.”
Ladies and Gentlemen,
This is something we must always remember: violence against children is unacceptable, whatever the justification or the means used.