Time Children Had The Same Protection

By Linda Savage, Ambassador for Children and Young People in Western Australia

Many people are surprised to learn that the use of ‘physical force’ is acceptable, and defendable in Australia when the person on the receiving end of that assault is a child.

Australia’s children are specifically denied the legal protection adults have when physical force is rebranded as corporal punishment and is deemed to be “reasonable correction.’ 

‘It is lawful for a parent or a person in the place of a parent, or for a schoolmaster, to use by way of reasonable correction, towards a child or pupil under his care, such force as is reasonable under the circumstances.’

Little is known about the prevalence, chronicity, severity and nature of corporal punishment in the Australian context.  Like sexual abuse in institutions, it almost always occurs behind closed doors, without witnesses and where those in charge of children have almost unchallenged authority. What is known though is that there is no clear benefit, or positive outcome using corporal punishment. Rather the evidence shows there are negative outcomes for children including mental health problems, anti-social behaviour, low self-esteem and a greater likelihood that a child may develop aggressive behaviour themselves. Even mild physical punishment can reduce school engagement and cognitive performance.

It is never a fair fight, with younger children particularly vulnerable. Children aged three to five are more likely than other children to be physically disciplined. Children with disabilities 3.6 times more likely. 

Corporal punishment has not been used in the state’s government school system since the 1980s. Changes in 2015 closed the loophole that has allowed non-government schools to continue using the cane and other forms of physical discipline. It is time for corporal punishment to be unacceptable in any setting and by parents and carers.

Condoning the use of physical force against children is not only harmful to children and infringes their human right to safety and protection from harm, but it is also out of step and contradicts the message that violence is never acceptable or excusable, a key message in efforts to address domestic and family violence.

Read the full publication by Linda Savage below.