Article 17 of the 1961 European Social Charter requires states to take all appropriate and necessary measures to ensure the effective exercise of mothers’ and children’s right to social and economic protection. Article 17 of the 1996 Revised Social Charter, which is gradually replacing the Social Charter, requires states to take all appropriate and necessary measures to protect children against violence. In 2001, the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) issued a general observation on corporal punishment (Conclusions XV - 2, Volume 1, published in 2001), in which it stated:
“Article 17 requires a prohibition in legislation against any form of violence against children, whether at school, in other institutions, in their home or elsewhere.”
Monitoring implementation of the Charters by the European Committee of Social Righs
In monitoring states’ compliance with the Charters, the Committee has repeatedly found that states are not in conformity with the Charter because corporal punishment is not prohibited. The Committee's conclusions can be accessed by year and by state below; they are also included in the individual country reports for the state concerned.
The 1995 Additional Protocol to the European Social Charter Providing for a System of Collective Complaints allows for non-governmental organisations to bring complaints of alleged violations of the Charters. In 2003, collective complaints were submitted against Belgium, Greece, Ireland, Italy and Portugal, alleging that the states were in violation of the Charter because corporal punishment was not prohibited. The Committee found violations against Belgium, Greece and Ireland. It found that Supreme Court judgments declaring corporal punishment unlawful in Italy and Portugal were sufficient to comply with the Charter. But when Portugal’s Supreme Court subsequently issued a contrary judgment defending corporal punishment, in 2006 a second complaint was submitted against Portugal. The ECSR found a violation and issued a very clear decision (World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) v Portugal, complaint No. 34/2006, decision on the merits, para. 19-21), in which it stated:
“To comply with Article 17, states' domestic law must prohibit and penalise all forms of violence against children, that is acts or behaviour likely to affect the physical integrity, dignity, development or psychological well being of children.
“The relevant provisions must be sufficiently clear, binding and precise, so as to preclude the courts from refusing to apply them to violence against children.
“Moreover, states must act with due diligence to ensure that such violence is eliminated in practice.”
Prohibition of all corporal punishment in both Greece and Portugal was accelerated by these complaints. As yet, Belgium and Ireland have taken no action to comply.
In 2013, further complaints were submitted and declared admissible against Belgium, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, France, Ireland, Italy and Slovenia. In Cyprus the Government rapidly introduced legislation to remove the legal defence for parental corporal punishment (the right “to administer punishment”) and this was adopted in June 2013. The Belgian Government, in its observations on the merits of the complaint against it, stated that it was willing to consider explicit prohibition in civil law. In France, the responsible Minister told the media that she could see the case for clear and explicit prohibition. In Ireland the complaint had major media coverage and key children’s organisations put pressure on the Government to prohibit. In decisions on Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Ireland and Slovenia, the Committee found that the lack of clear prohibition in law of all corporal punishment of children violates the European Social Charter. The Committee stated in the decisions:
“The European Committee of Social Rights notes that there is now a wide consensus at both the European and international level among human rights bodies that the corporal punishment of children should be expressly and comprehensively prohibited in law.”
- All conclusions on corporal punishment of the ECSR are in the relevant individual country reports
- Compilation of ECSR conclusions
- Full text of European Social Charter
- Full text of Revised Social Charter
- Full text of Additional Protocol
- Collective complaints and related documents are available on the European Social Charter website