Ireland bans all corporal punishment of children

Ireland has joined the list of countries outlawing all corporal punishment of children in all settings, including the home. On 11 November 2015, the Irish Parliament adopted legislation explicitly repealing the common law defence of “reasonable chastisement” of children, making Ireland the 20th European Union state to achieve prohibition of corporal punishment, the 29th Council of Europe member state, and the 47th state worldwide. The achievement of law reform comes after more than a decade of mounting human rights pressure on Ireland to repeal the defence and give children equal protection from assault.

Speaking during the report and final stages debate in the Seanad, Senator Jillian van Turnhout, who tabled the original amendment, stated:

This ancient defence of reasonable chastisement is not an Irish invention. It came to us from English common law. Through its colonial past, England has been responsible for rooting this legal defence in over 70 countries and territories throughout the world. In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, the reasonable punishment defence still allows parents and some other carers to justify common assault on children. In Scotland, there is another variation, namely the defence of justifiable assault. In this action being taken today, the Government is putting children first and providing leadership, which will hopefully give confidence to the Government at Westminster, the devolved UK Administrations and other countries across the globe to discard these archaic and disreputable defences and give full respect to the dignity of children…. With this amendment we have a way to unite and agree that all citizens are equal. There must never be a defence for violence against children.”

Minister for Children and Youth Affairs James Reilly, confirming the Government’s support for removal of the defence, stated:

The amendment before the House provides for the total abolition of the common law defence of reasonable chastisement. It does not create a new offence but rather removes something that has its roots in a completely different era and societal context. The measure asserts: that there is no circumstance in which it may be seen to be in order to hit a vulnerable person, in this case a child; that from a child’s perspective there is nothing reasonable about being on the receiving end of corporal punishment; that Irish parents are no less protective of their children, nor less progressive in their parenting practices, than those in the other 19 European countries where a statutory ban on corporal punishment is in place; that the Government, by its laws, will protect and vindicate the rights of children; and that Ireland is diligent as regards meeting its international obligations in the area of human rights. The measure represents a significant advancement as regards the protection and rights of children. It reinforces the developing impetus in parenting practices in Ireland to use positive discipline strategies in upbringing of children which reject the use of corporal punishment.”

The new law will now go to the President for signature and is likely to come into force shortly. For further information, see the page on states which have achieved prohibition and the detailed country report for Ireland. For the latest facts and figures on global progress towards prohibition, see our countdown to universal prohibition.

Analysis by the Global Initiative has identified almost 80 states and territories worldwide where the law provides a legal defence for the use of corporal punishment in childrearing derived from English law on “reasonable chastisement”: a preliminary list is available here. Explicitly repealing these defences is critical to the realisation of children’s rights to respect for their human dignity and physical integrity, protection from all forms of violence and equal protection under the law.