Leaders and Laggards: Banning Corporal Punishment of Children in Scandinavia and the Anglo Nations

Tuesday, July 15, 2014: 9:00 AM
Room: Booth 56
Oral Presentation
Joan E. DURRANT , Family Social Sciences, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada
Gregg M. OLSEN , University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, MB, Canada

This paper will explore the unfolding of a global phenomenon – the legal prohibition of corporal punishment of children. Until 35 years ago, this near-universal practice was considered appropriate, necessary and a parental right.  But a paradigm shift in conceptions of childhood has led to a global movement to redefine it as violence and as a violation of children’s rights.  Today, 33 countries have prohibited it in all settings, including the home.  This remarkable shift reflects profound cultural changes in thinking about children and their development, parent-child relationships, and the role of the state in family life. 

This movement began in Scandinavia, when Sweden became the first country to explicitly abolish all corporal punishment of children in 1979.  Finland and Norway were the second and third countries to prohibit corporal punishment of children - in 1983 and 1987, respectively.  Interestingly, but perhaps not surprisingly, progress in the Anglo nations has virtually stalled.  New Zealand became the first Anglo nation to pass a corporal punishment ban in 2007, but this did not happen easily.  In all other Anglo nations (Australia, Canada, UK, US), legal defences continue to protect adults who corporally punish children. 

In this paper, we will examine the process of law reform in the three Scandinavian “pioneer” countries and contrast it with the situation in the Anglo countries.  We will address the following three questions: 1) Why did this particular law reform movement begin in Scandinavia?  2) What social, political and historical reasons account for Sweden, Finland and Norway being the first to reform their laws? 3) What accounts for the Anglo nations’ slow progress on this front?