Italy: Ippolito's anti-spanking law

In 2003, the United Nations Children's Fund issued its 5th report on the performance of the wealthy OECD nations in meeting the needs of their children. The extract below is largely drawn from a paper by S. Bitensky - "Spare the rod, embrace our humanity: towards a new legal regime prohibiting corporal punishment of children", University of Michigan Law School, 1998 (pp. 380-386).

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.

Italy: Ippolito's law

In 1995, not far from Lake Como near Italy's border with Switzerland, a Magistrate's court found a local man, Natalino Cambria, guilty of 'abusing the means of correction'. The man's daughter, Danila, had been repeatedly hit and kicked for getting poor grades at school, lying, and failing to live up to her father's expectations.

In November of that year, the Milan Court of Appeal heard the case and found Cambria guilty of 'ill-treatment'.

By 1996 the case was in Italy's Supreme Court, where Cambria's lawyers argued that he should not have been convicted of either offence. The beatings had been administered, they argued, without any intention of ill-treatment or causing physical or mental damage; Cambria had been merely exercising his right and duty to correct his daughter's behaviour.

Delivering the Supreme Court's ruling, Judge Francesco Ippolito wrote an opinion which has since become a landmark judgement in Italian law.

Rejecting the lawyers' arguments, Ippolito upheld Cambria's conviction for ill-treatment of his daughter under Article 572 of the Italian Penal Code. But the wider significance of the ruling lay not in the confirmation of the illtreatment charge but in the dismissal of the earlier conviction for 'abuse of the means of correction'. The relevant article of the Penal Code, went the opinion, could only be triggered when a legitimate means of correction was used abusively. Physical punishment regardless of how it is used, Judge Ippolito ruled, could not be considered a legitimate means of correction.

Italy has not yet formally joined the small group of European nations that have introduced new legislation specifically outlawing the use of physical punishment. But in practice Italy's lower courts rarely stray from the decisions of the Supreme Court Justices. And in practice, Judge Ippolito's ruling is now regarded as the law of the land.

Ippolito himself left no room for doubt that this had been the intention, describing the Cambria case as "an opportunity to establish the legal principle that parents in Italy are absolutely forbidden from using any violence or corporal punishment to correct their children's conduct." As Italy itself has moved away from Fascism, he noted, so it must also move away from the concept of the authoritarian father. As a further illustration of this shift, he referred to a Supreme Court decision of the 1950s barring husbands from 'correcting' their wives by physical or any other means.

The ruling also drew support from international treaties and Conventions to which Italy is party. In particular, the Supreme Court Justices referred to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, citing the preamble and Articles 2, 3, 18, and 19 — the last of which specifically prohibits the use of violence against children.

There is a long way to go before the spirit of the ruling is universally observed in Italy. But Judge Ippolito has predicted that the judgement will 'filter into society' to create an atmosphere in which the physical punishment of children will no longer be regarded as socially acceptable.

See also:
External link: