Estimated reading time 3 minutes 3 Min

UN pushes for Australian smacking ban

A United Nations committee has condemned Australians’ use of corporal punishment, directing the country to ban it in all settings including the home.

November 30, 2022
By Cassandra Morgan
30 November 2022

Australian parents would face criminal consequences for smacking their children if the country adopted a United Nations push to outlaw corporal punishment.

The United Nations Committee Against Torture has directed Australia to put an outright ban on corporal punishment, extending from the school gate into the home. 

In its recent concluding observations, the committee noted it was concerned corporal punishment remains lawful under the label of so-called ‘reasonable chastisement’ in the home throughout Australia, as well as in day care and alternative care settings, public and private schools and detention centres in some states and territories.

“The committee urges the state party (Australia) to explicitly prohibit corporal punishment in law in all settings,” it said.

“It should also strengthen and expand awareness-raising and education campaigns to promote positive and alternative forms of discipline”. 

The UN’s push for a ban on corporal punishment comes after it accepted a submission underpinned by research from Australian Catholic University Institute of Child Protection Studies director, Professor Daryl Higgins.

He found about 60 per cent of young adults aged between 16 and 24 experienced corporal punishment four or more times during their childhood as part of his work with the Australian Child Maltreatment Study.

It doubled their risk of mental health problems – namely, anxiety and depression, Prof Higgins said. 

“Often it’s through ignorance of the social norms … (and) of the opportunities for learning new, different, and – I’ve got to say – way, way better and more effective parenting practices,” he said.

“Why are we supporting and making available to parents the idea that (corporal punishment) is an effective parenting practice when all the data shows that it’s not?”

If Australia is to hold its head high in the international community, it needs to take note of the UN’s message and not just excuse it as a matter of private family practices, Prof Higgins said. 

The country is “absolutely way behind” others when it comes to banning corporal punishment, with 63 international jurisdictions having already outlawed it, he said.  

“There’s no concerns that have arisen in any of those countries over policing,” he said.

Prof Higgins noted that while most jurisdictions in Australia have outlawed corporal punishment in schools, that wasn’t the case in Queensland. 

While education authorities might brand it as unacceptable, that wasn’t the same thing as saying it was illegal, Prof Higgins said.

“Even the fact that we’ve got state and territory variations on something like corporal punishment in schools is a cause of concern. “

“There is a difference between laws and practices.”

The same went for a difference between laws and practices for detention centres, childcare centres, and other settings, Prof Higgins said. 

Australian Catholic University dean of law Professor Patrick Keyzer prepared the submission to the UN, and has challenged the Australian government to act on the committee’s direction. 

More in Top Stories