Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)

Ratification of CEDAW

The UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has been ratified or acceded to by 189 states (November 2018).


Relevant articles

Article 1 of the Convention defined “discrimination against women” as “any distinction, exclusion or restriction made on the basis of sex which has the effect or purpose of impairing or nullifying the recognition, enjoyment or exercise by women, irrespective of their marital status, on a basis of equality of men and women, of human rights and fundamental freedoms in the political, economic, social, cultural, civil or any other field.” Article 2 condemns all forms of discrimination against women and puts an obligation on states parties to take all measures to combat it, including legislative measures and including “to take all appropriate measures, including legislation, to modify or abolish existing laws, regulations, customs and practices which constitute discrimination against women” and “to repeal all national penal provisions which constitute discrimination against women”. Articles 5 and 16 focus on the family:

Art. 5: “States Parties shall take all appropriate measures: (a) To modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women; (b) To ensure that family education includes a proper understanding of maternity as a social function and the recognition of the common responsibility of men and women in the upbringing and development of their children, it being understood that the interest of the children is the primordial consideration in all cases.”

Art. 16: “(1) States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in all matters relating to marriage and family relations and in particular shall ensure, on a basis of equality of men and women: … (d) The same rights and responsibilities as parents, irrespective of their marital status, in matters relating to their children; in all cases the interests of the children shall be paramount; … (f) The same rights and responsibilities with regard to guardianship, wardship, trusteeship and adoption of children, or similar institutions where these concepts exist in national legislation; in all cases the interests of the children shall be paramount.…”

General Recommendations adopted by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women

The Committee has not explicitly addressed corporal punishment in its General Recommendations on violence against women. However, in communicating its position regarding family violence and violence against women in general, it has made a number of statements directly relevant to corporal punishment in childrearing.

General Recommendation No. 12 on violence against women, adopted by the Committee in 1989, makes it clear that the Convention requires that women are protected against violence of any kind in the family and elsewhere. General Recommendation No. 19 on violence against women, adopted in 1992, expands further on the Committee’s position. Commenting on article 16, the Recommendation states that violence in the family is “one of the most insidious forms of violence against women”, “prevalent in all societies”, and the subjection of women of all ages to such violence is “perpetuated by traditional attitudes” (para. 23). The Committee states that laws against family violence should “give adequate protection to all women, and respect their integrity and dignity” and that they should protects women from “all kinds of violence” (para. 24). General Recommendation No. 35 on gender-based violence against women (2017) updates General Recommendation No. 19 and highlights that states “are required to adopt legislation prohibiting all forms of gender-based violence against women and girls” (para. 26(a)).


The Committee’s recommendations to states parties

In its examination of states parties on their implementation of CEDAW, the Committee has raised the issue of corporal punishment and recommended its prohibition, though not yet consistently or systematically. As at July 2019, the Committee has made 35 observations / recommendations on corporal punishment to 27 states.

Extracts from the Committee's recommendations to state on corporal punishment of children can be accessed here by session. Recommendations are also included in the individual country reports.


Communications/inquiries under CEDAW

There are communications and inquiry procedures under the Optional Protocol to the Convention, ratified by 109 states (November 2018). Although the Committee is yet to consistently and systematically promote prohibition of corporal punishment as a key element in combating violence against women and girls, it may be possible to use the communications/inquiries procedures to challenge the legality of corporal punishment in states parties which have accepted these procedures.


Further information