Japan takes steps towards prohibiting corporal punishment of children

The Global Initiative welcomes the amendments adopted in the Diet on 19 June 2019 as an important step towards fulfilling children’s right to be protected from all corporal punishment.

The legislation adopted amends 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.”

Article 820 of the Civil Code states that “a person who exercises parental authority holds the right and bears the duty on care and education for the children’s interests” (unofficial translation). The Child Welfare Act 1947 was also amended to prohibit corporal punishment by heads of child guidance centres, heads of child welfare institutions and foster parents. The amendments will come into force in April 2020. The Japanese Government has declared that the existing “right to discipline” under the Civil Code would be reviewed within two years of the amendments coming into force, with the discussion starting immediately.

Although the Global Initiative commends the progress made through the inclusion of an explicit prohibition of “corporal punishment”, the interpretation of the term “corporal punishment” remains unclear as it is not defined by the legislation. The Prime Minister stated during debates on the Bill that corporal punishment would not be allowed on any occasion but the new phrasing of article 14(1) of the Child Abuse Prevention Law 2000 could be interpreted as limiting the prohibition to forms of corporal punishment “that go beyond the scope necessary for the care and education of the child”, which may not include ‘lighter’ forms of corporal punishment. The Japanese Government has also made it clear that these amendments did not target all humiliating or degrading punishment, including verbal punishment, stating that “significantly violent language” was already adequately dealt with under existing legislation.

According to the Supplementary Resolution which was also adopted today, the Government will develop guidelines detailing which behaviours fall under the new legislation. It is unclear at this stage whether all forms of corporal punishment, however light, will be covered by these guidelines. Concerns have additionally been raised that the scope of the amended articles is too narrow and may not apply to every setting of children’s lives.

We hope that the Government of Japan will urgently adopt the guidelines to clarify that all forms of corporal punishment, as defined by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, are unacceptable in all settings, in order to achieve a full prohibition of all corporal punishment. We further hope that the Government will take steps to raise awareness of the harmful effects of all corporal punishment and provide parents and others who care for children with information and training on alternative non-violent discipline, as it has committed to do in the Supplementary Resolution.

Further information

  • For more information on the legality of corporal punishment of children in Japan, see our detailed report.
  • For more information on global progress towards universal prohibition and elimination of corporal punishment of children, visit our countdown page.
  • For information on how you can support the campaign to protect all children from corporal punishment, visit our Get involved page.