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Belgian MPs to discuss ban on smacking children

23:00 09/05/2021

Four Belgian MPs are tabling bills in parliament to amend the Civil Code to ban so-called educational corporal punishment such as slapping or spanking.

According to a March 2020 poll, three out of four Belgians are in favour of such a provision. The Belgian section of the organisation Défense des Enfants International, at the origin of the investigation, considered that "physical and psychological punishments are part of the educational habits of a large number of parents who, however, do not consider them for the most part beneficial".

One parent told the report's authors: "I find that takes away the integrity of the child. It humiliates them." Another said: "Of course there are families where it should be banned because there may be excesses." A third admitted: "It can happen that I spank my children without it being painful, but to show that at some point you have to stop and put limits."

UMons educational psychologist Bruno Humbeeck believes that "the real problem is how to support families in difficulty". He said: "If the political debate revolves only around spanking, it will undoubtedly conceal the deficit of means which is currently granted in the fight against mistreatment."

“It always makes me shudder a little to hear that corporal punishment has an educational value because that is completely untrue," Humbeeck added.

"All research shows it. Abuse is nested in this form of physical punishment by the meaning it has for the child as opposed to the meaning the parent gives it. There really is a real danger when, for example, slapping becomes a way of interacting in the family."

The problem of child abuse is far from being a marginal problem, and all the more so since the start of the health crisis. The current situation has seen the number of reports explode. They are said to be up 50% at SOS Enfants Charleroi and 45% in the association's Liège division.

"We also see in this area a very strong correlation between the tendency to slap a child and violence against women, for example," warns Humbeeck. "It means that there are families in which interactions are too violent."

He believes that in this context, a form of ban, via a law as the four MPs will plead this week, makes sense.

"But to penalise slapping in a general way, indiscriminately, is absolutely stupid," he said. "Especially since mistreatment is not just about beatings. To say to your child, eye to eye, without hitting him: 'I don't love you' or 'I prefer your brother' is much more abusive than a slap."

Humbeeck explains that laws have a "framework function, which allows the affirmation of values. For example, Belgian society advocates the avoidance of all forms of violence, the ban on spanking is therefore rather consistent, but a law, alone, does not act at the root of the problem.

"The problem goes through the support of families and we saw it particularly during this period, because all families were not impacted in the same way by what they were going through, and in some cases, indeed, we have needed that framework."