Portuguese President demands “zero tolerance” approach to smacking children

Written By Lara Silva

The President of Portugal Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said on Wednesday that a change in attitude regarding hitting children is required in the country, calling for a “zero tolerance” approach. Marcelo reminded citizens that violent behavior against children has been illegal since 2007.

The president demanded this “zero tolerance” approach in a video message for the conference “Nem Mais Uma Palmada – Pela eliminação dos castigos corporais“, translating to “not one more smack”, promoted by the Institute of Support of Children in Lisbon. The conference aims to launch a strategy for a new national campaign that defends the rights of children and protects their physical and mental wellbeing.

Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa said, “There’s still a lot to do. How is it possible that in certain contexts the corporal punishment of children is still tolerated? How is this possible in 2022?”. The Portuguese president went on to emphasize that “corporal punishment against children is a form of intolerable violence in all dimensions” and that this behavior has “consequences on children’s development”.

Rosario Farmhouse, the president of the National Commission of Protection of the Rights of Children and Youth (CNPDPCJ) shares the same opinion, asking for the end of the mistreatment of children and youth, noting that violence within families increased substantially during the covid-19 pandemic.

Farmhouse explained that slapping or smacking a child is “not normal”, stating that “positive parenting is what teaches and communicates limits”. She continues, “If we receive love, that is what we will give: if we receive a smack, that is what we will do”. 

The President of the Institute of Support of Children, Dulce Rocha also added that being violent against children has “negative reflexes” in other areas, such as bullying and domestic violence.

The institute is now looking for the support of three entities: the Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa, the National Ombudsman, and the president of the CNPDPCJ. In the second stage of the campaign, the institute is looking for governmental support, including help from local government to change the attitudes in Portugal that tolerate violence against children.

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Is spanking children illegal in Portugal?

Yes. Corporal punishment against children is punished by law in Portugal with 1 to 5 years of imprisonment. Article 152 of the Portuguese Penal Code was amended in 2007 to include both physical and psychological ill-treatment, including corporal punishment. The law was amended after the European Committee of Social Rights (ECSR) found that Portugal was in violation of article 17 of the Charter because all corporal punishment was not prohibited. The ECSR made multiple complaints, many against Portuguese Supreme Court Decisions. In 2006, the Supreme Court ruled that slaps and spankings were “legal” and “acceptable”, and that “failure to use these methods of punishment could amount to educational neglect”, according to End Violence Against Children. After another issued complaint by the ECSR, law reform followed in 2007. 

More than 60 nations around the world have outlawed physical punishment for children, with Wales joining the list in March of 2022.

Portuguese attitudes: Is smacking children socially acceptable in Portugal?

Divorcio & Familia, a group of lawyers specializing in divorce and family law say that while this legal prohibition is essential, it will not be effective “if this behavior is still socially acceptable. Therefore, the main route to take is changing attitudes, raising awareness to the fact that hitting a child is as bad or even worse than hitting an adult”.

In 2019, a study by UMAR found interesting results on Portuguese attitudes towards corporal punishment and violence against children. The study, co-financed by the European Union found that while the majority of parent participants said they did not agree with corporal punishment, at least 20% of children responded that they have experienced this violent behavior. 

Almost 65% of parent participants disagreed that parents who beat their children do so for the good of the children. When asked whether light spanking is acceptable, 13.4% of parents agreed this was not an issue, while over 30% neither agreed nor disagreed. 

Almost 73% of parent participants believed that the statement that only bad parents hit their children is untrue. Moreover, 33.60% totally disagreed or disagreed that corporal punishment against children should be prohibited by law and that adults should be prosecuted. Over 28% neither agreed nor disagreed. In relation to intervention, only 7.30% of participants say they always intervened when they see an adult hitting a child in a public space.

According to Safe Communities Portugal, in 2017, an average of seven children a day were reported as mistreated through physical and psychological abuse.

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