Germany: how smacking was banned

In 2003, the United Nations Children's Fund published a report on child maltreatment in the wealthy nations of the OECD. The extract below draws on a summary of a study tour of Germany undertaken by Phil Taverner, an Area Manager for the NSPCC, in cooperation with the U.K. "Children are Unbeatable Alliance" –

Sections of the report may be freely reproduced with the following reference: "A league table of child maltreatment deaths in rich nations," Innocenti Report Card No.5, September 2003. UNICEF Innocenti Research Centre, Florence. © The United Nations Children's Fund, 2003. You can download the full report as a PDF document from the UNICEF website: Innocenti Report Cards.
More than 30 countries had banned spanking by 2011. See the list.

Germany: how smacking was banned

There is a growing international consensus that the use of any kind of physical violence against children is unacceptable and the number of OECD countries who have implemented an outright ban on physical punishment now stands at seven. One of the most recent to join the ranks of the converted was Germany where a law was enacted in November 2000.

The new legislation, which is written into the Bürgerliches Gesetzbuch (civil law), prohibits not only the physical punishment of children but also psychological harm and other degrading measures. At the same time the Sozialgesetzbuch No.8 (which covers childcare law) was amended to impose an active duty on local authorities to "promote ways in which families can resolve conflict without resort to force."

While pressure to ban physical punishment had been growing among certain sectors for some time, it was after the general election of 1998 that the new government coalition of the Social Democratic Party and the Green Party included a commitment to legislation in their coalition agreement. Opinion polls showed the majority of Germans still opposed to a ban but, despite this, there was little opposition on either side of the German Parliament.

The expressed objectives of the legal change were to shift public attitudes so that all forms of violence against children might be viewed as unacceptable in the population as a whole, leading eventually to a break in the cycle of violence. The focus was on providing families with the means to move away from the use of force as a way of resolving conflict — rather than on a punitive approach that would put parents and carers in conflict with the law. The legal change was therefore accompanied by a widespread public education campaign entitled "Mehr Respekt für Kinder" (More Respect for Children). This was initiated by the government but implemented by a combination of federal and local authorities and non-governmental organizations. The campaign employed a wide variety of methods to get the message across including TV slots, the distribution of leaflets and educational materials for parents, public events and workshops and the introduction of structured courses as part of adult education programmes.

An evaluation of the campaign has found that it has so far been successful in raising awareness of violence against children among around 30 per cent of parents and children. There is evidence that the trend among the German public has continued to move away from support for physical punishment and to date there has not been a single prosecution of parents under the new legislation — suggesting that the 'help instead of punishment' approach may be working.

In a later survey, commissioned by a German newspaper in 2005, 36 percent of those asked believed that smacking children was justifiable and a further 28 percent said it was acceptable in exceptional circumstances. An article about the survey said enforcement of the legislation against corporal punishment is sketchy, with charges rarely pressed in anything but extreme cases. And even then, they are often waived if the family concerned agrees to counseling or other supportive measures.

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