Please spare the rodThe Justice Ministry plans to revisit the 62-year-old Civil Law to remove a provision on parents’ right to punish their children, a step toward legally banning corporal punishment. The issue raises controversy. But we welcome the ministry’s step given the latest cases of appalling child abuse in the country.
On June 3, a 9-year-old boy was found dead after his stepmother kept him in a suitcase for seven hours. Later, a 9-year-old girl was found wandering on the roadside barefoot in the southeastern city of Changnyeong. She had fled from a mother and stepfather who burned her with a heated metal chopsticks and chained her by the neck on an apartment terrace. She was given one meal a day.
Such criminal acts should be immediately reported to the police. But there remain some parents who think they can do whatever with their kids. Many in this society believe in the longstanding adage “spare the rod, spoil the child.” The legal provision on the “right to punish” was in the same vein.
The Civil Law bestows individuals with parental rights but also the duty to protect and educate their children. Punishment is allowed because of the clause. Legal experts claim that the provision does not mean physical punishment. The Child Welfare Act and Child Abuse Punishment Act actually prohibit physical punishment of children, including by parents and others with parental rights.
Still, in the traditional family, strict discipline accompanied by punishment persists. Most parents on trial for child abuse argue that they were only trying to discipline their kids. Some of the courts respected that argument and lessened their sentences.
Removing the right to punish can be seen as excessive state meddling in family affairs. Still, our society must seek other options if the right to punish is abused to the extent of destroying a child’s body and mind. Physically abused children tend to grow up to be violent. The Justice Ministry must come up with alternative and reasonable means for disciplining of children in contemporary conditions after hearings with child experts.