Japan prohibits all corporal punishment of children

With the publication of the guidelines for parenting without corporal punishment on 20 February 2020, Japan has clearly and explicitly prohibited all corporal punishment of children. The Act amending the Child Abuse Prevention Law 2000 and the Child Welfare Act 1947 adopted in June 2019 – which will come into force on 1 April 2020 – had already amended article 14(1) of the Child Abuse Prevention Law 2000 to state (unofficial translation):

A person who exercises parental authority over a child shall not discipline the child by inflicting corporal punishment upon him/her or by taking other forms of action that go beyond the scope necessary for the care and education of the child, stipulated in the provision of Article 820 of the Civil Code, and shall give due consideration to appropriate exercise of parental authority over the child.”

The Child Welfare Act 1947 had also been amended to prohibit corporal punishment by heads of child guidance centres, heads of child welfare institutions and foster parents. However, there were some concerns at the time regarding the scope of the ban.

Under a Supplementary Resolution also adopted in June 2019, the Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare was to develop guidelines on the scope of the amendments. The guidelines were issued on 20 February 2020 by the Committee on the Promotion of Parenting without Corporal Punishment. They refer to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, defining corporal punishment as punishment that causes some degree of pain or discomfort, however light, and stating that other humiliating and degrading punishments also violate children’s rights. They also state that (unofficial translation): “Corporal punishment is an unacceptable act. No one should use corporal punishment of children, regardless of the parental authority.

During the debates in May 2019 on the Bill amending the Child Abuse Prevention Law 2000 and the Child Welfare Act 1947, the Prime Minister had declared that under the amended legislation corporal punishment would not be allowed on any occasion. These statements clarify that the prohibition within article 14(1) of the Child Abuse Prevention Law 2000 provides children with protection from all forms of corporal punishment.

Although article 822 of the Civil Code still recognises a right to “discipline the child” to people with parental authority, this right to discipline has been under review since July 2019 along with other issues relating to family law. It is expected article 822 will be repealed or amended to bring it in line with the ban on corporal punishment, upon recommendation of the 2019 Supplementary Resolution.

The 2019 Supplementary Resolution further committed the Government to raise awareness of the harmful effects of corporal punishment to the general public and provide parents with information and support on alternative methods of discipline. The Ministry of Health, Labour, and Welfare has since issued a notification to prefectures and cities to urge them to widely disseminate the guidelines to parents, institutions and the wider public and is planning an awareness-raising campaign. These actions are welcome as it is crucial for governments to take steps to properly implement a ban after enactment. The Government should continue to disseminate information about the ban and further strengthen its support for parenting programs and large-scale awareness raising campaigns.

With this clear statement from the Government, Japan becomes the 59th state worldwide and the third state in Asia Pacific to enact prohibition of all corporal punishment of children. The Global Initiative warmly welcomes the adoption of the Act, the publication of guidelines, and measures to support implementation of prohibition. We have been very proud to support local campaigners in their hard work over many years. We also remember the tragic deaths of two young girls that led to this essential reform for children, and we commend the Japanese Prime Minister and Government for acting quickly and unequivocally to ensure that children will now be protected by law from violent punishment.

A total of 140 states worldwide are yet to achieve this crucial step for children. With a child population of 19 million, prohibition in Japan brings the global child population protected by law from corporal punishment to 13%. Huge numbers of children around the world are still waiting for the realisation of their basic human right to protection from violent punishment, and we call on all remaining governments to enact prohibition without delay.


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