European Social Charter and Revised Social Charter

Relevant articles

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 Rights

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. As of July 2020, the Committee has published 154 recommendations / observations on corporal punishment to 42 states.

The Committee's conclusions can be accessed by year here; they are also included in the individual country reports for the state concerned.

Collective Complaints

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. Ireland prohibited all corporal punishment of children in 2015, after a further complaint was submitted to the Committee (see below). As yet, Belgium has 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.”

Shortly after these decisions, prohibition of all corporal punishment of children was achieved in Ireland (in 2015) and in Slovenia (in 2016). France achieved prohibition of all corporal punishment in 2019. Belgium and the Czech Republic have yet to comply with the decision.


Further information