Prohibition of all corporal punishment in Denmark (1997)

In 1986 a private Bill passed by the Danish Parliament on 30 May 1985 came into force. It amended the Majority Act to state:

Parental custody implies the obligation to protect the child against physical and psychological violence and against other harmful treatment."

Commentators indicated at the time that the law reform was an indication to parents that violence should never be used in childrearing, but that its legal effects were uncertain. (A 1984 opinion poll had found only 25% in favour of formal abolition of parents' right to hit children, and 68% against abolition.) Subsequently other legal commentators suggested that parents' traditional "right to punish" still existed, and allowed at least minor forms of physical punishment.

In May 1997 the Danish Parliament agreed an amendment to the Parental Custody and Care Act which explicitly prohibits corporal punishment:

A child has the right to care and security. He or she shall be treated with respect as an individual and may not be subjected to corporal punishment or other degrading treatment."

As the proposer of the 1997 Bill to amend the law told Parliament: "Danes are increasingly turning away from corporal punishment... A fresh opinion poll in January 1997 showed a clear majority - 57% of the population - were against physical punishment. This shows an unmistakable shift against such punishment." The proposer emphasised the educational purpose of the change:

In the opinion of the advocates of the change in the law, it is important for those groups who work with families to have firm, clear and unequivocal legal grounds for being able to say that under no circumstances may one use violence in the upbringing of a child... Doctors, the police and social workers come into contact with families where children are regularly beaten. These groups will - if the law is changed - be able to point out that it is wrong to hit a child and instead give advice on other ways to resolve conflicts."

The purpose of the change was not to penalise more parents - on the contrary. But "clear legislation and a plainly worded explanation of the reasons for it are vital if we are to change public opinion on the issue of the corporal punishment of children".

The reform followed a series of hearings and consultations and a campaign led by the National Council for Children and Danish Save the Children. The National Council for Children, set up in 1994 for a three-year trial period to fulfil the function of children's ombudsman in Denmark, has now been given permanent status.

Professor Per Schultz Jorgensen, Chair of the Danish National Council for Children 1997-2000, comments:

Explicit legal reform against all corporal punishment of children in Denmark was put into action in June 1997. Previous reforms in the 1980s required parents to protect their children from physical and psychological violence; uncertainties remained about whether it was still permissible to smack children. So the 1997 law makes it absolutely clear that no corporal punishment is permitted. The National Council for Children played an active role in campaigning for the new law, so we decided to be active as well in an information campaign about it. During the autumn of 1998 the National Council has invested resources in reaching every family with minor children in Denmark. The materials include folders, leaflets, pamphlets, films and videos. And so far we feel we have succeeded: many schools and children's institutions ask for more materials. There has also been discussion in newspapers and on national TV channels.

"It is too early to measure any kind of outcome from the legal reform and the information campaign. But nobody doubts that the reform is influencing attitudes towards a more open, accepting and humane practice in the upbringing of children."

The National Council for Children (Borneradet) was established as a permanent, inter-disciplinary and independent body in 1997 to ensure children's rights and to highlight and provide information on the conditions of children's lives.

The prohibition of corporal punishment is now included in the Danish Act on Parental Responsibility 2007, which states in article 2(2):

Children have the right to care and security. Children must be treated with respect for their person and must not be exposed to corporal punishment or other humiliating treatment.”


Further information

  • Global Initiative country report for Denmark
  • Danish Act on Parental Responsibility 2007 (English)
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