Italy 1996 Supreme Court judgment
Condemnation of corporal punishment by parents – Cambria, Cass, sez. VI, 18 Marzo 1996, Foro It II 1996, 407-414
In 1996, the Supreme Court of Cassation issued a decision on a case concerning a man who had been convicted of the crime of abuse of the means of correction under article 571 of the Penal Code and, in the appeals court, of ill-treatment under article 572 of the Code, for repeatedly physically punishing his daughter. The Supreme Court upheld the conviction for ill-treatment, but stated that abuse of the means of correction did not apply to this case because it came into play only when legitimate methods of correction were used abusively. The Court’s opinion, written by Judge Ippolito, stated that corporal punishment is not a legitimate method of correction and that to regard it as such was anachronistic and not in keeping with the development of Italian family law, the Constitutional provisions on human dignity and the Convention on the Rights of the Child. The judgment states:
With all these considerations, the very expression ‘correction of children’, which expresses a view of childrearing that is both culturally anachronistic and historically outdated, should in fact be redefined, abolishing any connotation of hierarchy or authoritarianism and introducing the ideas of social and responsible commitment which should characterise the position of the educator vis à vis the learner. The term ‘correction’ should be understood as a synonym for education and refer to the conformative spirit which should be a part of any educational process.
“In any case, whichever meaning is to be reassigned to this term in family and pedagogic relationships, the use of violence for educational purposes can no longer be considered lawful. There are two reasons for this: the first is the overriding importance which the [Italian] legal system attributes to protecting the dignity of the individual. This includes ‘minors’ who now hold rights and are no longer simply objects to be protected by their parents or, worse still, objects at the disposal of their parents. The second reason is that, as an educational aim, the harmonious development of a child’s personality, which ensures that he/she embraces the values of peace, tolerance and co-existence, cannot be achieved by using violent means which contradict these goals.”
Subsequent law reform
As at April 2018, Italy has not yet reformed its legislation to explicitly prohibit all corporal punishment in the home and/or exclude it as a means of correction/discipline in childrearing, though it is under significant pressure to do so from international and regional human rights bodies.
- For a commentary on the judgment and information from an interview with Judge Ippolito, see Susan H. Bitensky, “Spare the Rod, Embrace Our Humanity: Toward a New Legal Regime Prohibiting Corporal Punishment of Children”, 31, University of Michigan Journal of Law Reform 353 (1997-1998)
- For further information on the law relating to corporal punishment and human rights pressure to confirm the Supreme Court decision through law reform, see the Global Initiative country report for Italy.