Prohibition of all corporal punishment in Finland (1983)

In Finland, the ban on physical punishment formed part of a comprehensive reform of children's law. The Child Custody and Right of Access Act 1983 begins with a statement of positive principles of care for children, and continues:

A child shall be brought up in the spirit of understanding, security and love. He shall not be subdued, corporally punished or otherwise humiliated. His growth towards independence, responsibility and adulthood shall be encouraged, supported and assisted."

This reform in family law puts beyond doubt that the criminal law applies equally to assaults committed against children by parents and other carers.

Matti Savolainen of the Ministry of Justice in Helsinki, who was responsible for drafting the 1983 Act, describes section 1 of the Act as incorporating three strategies:

Firstly the Act attempts to establish certain 'positive' guidelines for the upbringing of the child. Secondly the Act makes it absolutely clear that all violations against the child's integrity (whether 'physical' or 'spiritual') which would constitute a criminal offence if committed by a third person (e.g. assault, unlawful imprisonment, libel, slander, etc.) are equally punishable even when committed by a parent with the intent to discipline the child. And under the Criminal Code even a petty assault committed against a child under 15 is subject to public prosecution when committed by a parent at home. Thirdly the Act explicitly forbids also any degrading treatment ('the child shall not be humiliated') even where such an act would not constitute a criminal offence and even if there are no other direct legal remedies available."

A public information campaign was launched by the Ministry of Justice and National Board of Social Affairs, including a leaflet entitled What is a good upbringing?, made available through health clinics, social welfare offices and so on. A large-scale campaign was also launched by the Central Union for Child Welfare, an NGO, together with the National Boards of Health and Social Affairs, including a leaflet When you can't cope, find help: don't hit the child.

There were also brief spots on national television at peak viewing time before the main evening news programme as the law came into effect. This is a translation of the commentary on one of them:

Do you hit your child?

Is that how you bring him up?

All physical punishment deflates a child's ego. Even a slap makes him or her feel worthless.

A worthless person becomes indifferent.

Through slapping you are raising a bully.

Talk to the child. Settle your differences through discussion.

Make the child party to an agreement. That way you both win.

Decide to deserve your child's respect. As a person.


Further information

  • Global Initiative country report on Finland
This is an automatic translation service. Extracts from laws, treaty body recommendations and Universal Periodic Review outcomes are unofficial translations.