Discussing equal protection for children in England

Earlier this month, the Global Initiative ran a workshop on Equal Protection for Children at the Celebrating Children’s Rights conference organised by UCL, CRAE and the Foundling Museum to mark the 30th anniversary of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The aim of the workshop was to draw on the success stories from Ireland and Scotland, where prohibition of all corporal punishment of children has been enacted, as well as Wales, which is in the last stages of the same process, in order to identify drivers for change in England. The workshop was well attended with a diverse group of participants, including an NHS worker, representatives from local authorities, civil society, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and parliamentary staff.

The Chair Gráinne Mellon, Barrister at Garden Court Chambers, opened the workshop by welcoming the recent progress in Scotland. After a quick introduction of the issue by the Global Initiative, participants heard from Rachel Thomas, Head of Policy & Public Affairs for the Children’s Commissioner for Wales, who gave an overview of the Welsh campaign for equal protection from physical punishment. Consistent and strategic use of language, manifesto commitments on the issue and choosing to work through a single-issue Bill were flagged as key drivers of the campaign. Participants also viewed a video in which Jillian van Turnhout, a former Irish Senator, shared her experience of successfully championing law reform to end all corporal punishment. Commenting on the video, the Chair highlighted the importance of having a champion in Parliament and reminded participants of the power of human rights law, with the European Committee of Social Rights’ 2015 decision against Ireland one of the deciding factors for the adoption of the ban.

Participants then took part in group discussions – facilitated by the Global Initiative and Seamus Byrne, Law Lecturer at the University of Liverpool – on the obstacles and opportunities for equal protection in England. Highlights from the discussion included:

  • Participants observed a lack of political will to raise the issue of corporal punishment in England and the absence of consensus within the wider public on the issue or the urgency of tackling it. England was seen as differing from Wales, Scotland and Ireland in terms of the weight given to children’s rights and of the wider discourse around discipline as a way to control children.
  • It was felt that making the prevalence of corporal punishment more visible was very important as people did not realise it was still an issue. Precise and clear language should be favoured as this was a complicated issue and current legislation was unclear.
  • Alternative, non-violent methods of discipline would also need to be shared widely, with a need for planning and more resources to support parents and others.
  • Any campaign for law reform would have to include both awareness-raising and parliamentary action, ideally through a champion working to bring about positive change. It would be important to be inclusive and reach out to every community in England as well as engage with children and young people in devising and implementing a campaign.

As of November 2019, prohibition of corporal punishment in all settings is still to be achieved in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. More work still needs to be done – please support our work by signing up as a supporter and donating today!

 

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                                            (Photo credit: The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, 2019)

 

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