Israel 2000 Supreme Court judgment

Condemnation of corporal punishment by parents – Criminal Appeal 4596/98 Plonit v A. G. 54(1) P. D.

In January 2000 Israel’s Supreme Court effectively banned all parental corporal punishment, however light. The case concerned a woman convicted in the district court of assault and abuse against her two children. In appealing, she claimed that her actions were acceptable disciplinary measures. One of the two central questions considered by the appeal court was whether there was a defence of use of reasonable force by a parent in order to punish his/her children. The court concluded that this was no longer the case, and that while this defence had at one time been available, Israeli society had moved on from its reliance on English common law. In the court’s Majority Opinion, Justice D. Beinisch stated:

The court examining the normative aspect of the parent’s behavior towards his or her child must bring into its consideration the current judicial attitude to the position of the child and his or her rights. This is currently done in many of the world’s states, and must be done in Israel in the period after the legislation of Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty. No less significant in this respect is Israel’s status as a signatory to the Convention on Children’s Rights.

“Today it is possible to rule that in a society such as ours the child is an autonomous human being, possessed of independent interests and rights of his or her own, and that society has the obligation to defend the minor and his or her rights….”

The judgment quotes article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, then states:

Accordingly, we decide that corporal punishment of children, or humiliation and derogation from their dignity as a method of education by their parents, is entirely impermissible, and is a remnant of a societal-educational outlook that has lost its validity. The child is not the parent’s property and cannot be used as a punching bag the parents can beat at their leisure, even when the parents honestly believe that they are fulfilling their duty and right to educate their child. The child depends upon the parents, is entitled to parental love, protection and the parents’ gentle touch. The use of punishment which causes hurt and humiliation does not contribute to the child’s personality or education, but instead damages his or her human rights. Such punishment injures his or her body, feelings, dignity and proper development. Such punishment distances us from our goal of a society free of violence. Accordingly, let it be known that in our society, parents are now forbidden to make use of corporal punishments or methods that demean and humiliate the child as an educational system.

“It may be argued that this ruling is one that the community will be unable to bear, for many parents make use of force that is not disproportionate in nature against their children (e.g., a light slap on the bottom or the hand) in order to educate and discipline them. Are these parents criminals?

“The proper response is that in the legal, social and educational reality in which we live, we cannot leave open the definition of ‘reasonable’ and thus compromise at the risk of danger to the health and welfare of children. We must also take into account that we live in a society in which violence is as pervasive as a plague; an exception for ‘light’ violence is likely to degenerate into more serious violence. We cannot endanger the bodily and mental integrity of the minor with any type of corporal punishment; the type of permissible measures must be clear and unequivocal, the message being that corporal punishment is not permitted.”

 

Subsequent law reform

In the same year as the above ruling, the legal defence against a charge of assault that was confirmed in article 24 of the Civil Wrongs Ordinance – if the parent/guardian/teacher “punished the plaintiff in an amount reasonably necessary in order that the plaintiff correct his or her behaviour” – was repealed. Corporal punishment of children is now prohibited in all settings, including the home.

 

Further information:

  • The full text of the Israel judgment is available here.
  • For further information on subsequent law reform to prohibit all corporal punishment of children, see the Global Initiative country report for Israel.
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