This is the fourth time an Irish government has been told it is breaching the European Social Charter, a treaty it signed up to 15 years ago.
While hitting a child in school has been banned, carers minding up to three children, parents and relatives are still allowed to slap them if it is considered to be “reasonable chastisement”. But the Council’s Committee of Social Rights says that there is no such thing and beating children breaches the charter’s article 17, dealing with torture.
They further point out that while those minding children in foster and residential care have been advised they should not beat children, this has not been enshrined in law, and they say it should be.
Creches have been banned from hitting children in their care, but relatives or others minding young children in their homes or looking after fewer than three children are exempted from the ban.
The Government argued that its study, ‘Growing up in Ireland’, showed that 58% of nine-year-olds were never smacked and less than 1% of three-year-olds were now, and so the Irish approach was working.
But the Association for the Protection of All Children (APPROACH) that lodged the complaint against Ireland with the Council of Europe said research showed that a quarter of parents still hit their children.
The Government told the committee that it rejected the claims of APPROACH.
Children’s Minister James Reilly said he will review the common law defence of reasonable chastisement with the justice minister and has instructed his officials to prepare regulations to legally ban corporal punishment in residential and foster care.
The Children’s Rights Alliance applauded the finding of the committee and said that Ireland was out of kilter with most other European countries in not banning violence against children.
“In recent days, the world has witnessed Ireland’s decision to introduce marriage equality and is now asking — how can children not yet have equal protection in the law?” said Tanya Ward, Alliance chief executive.
“Violence against children, including corporal punishment, is a major abuse of their human rights, and equal protection under the law must be guaranteed to them.”
She said this was a step in the right direction for every child in Ireland. “It’s important the minister provides a timeline for introducing this change and provides support for parenting programmes on alternative forms of disciplining children.”
The committee’s unanimous decision was welcomed by Barnardos, which called on the Government to immediately outlaw all forms of child corporal punishment.