As at March 2016, 49 states had reformed their laws to clearly prohibit all corporal punishment of children (United Nations 1989) in all settings, including the home (Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, n.d.) By January 2017 this number had reached 52. As the trend moves towards abolition, it is not an acceptable position for the United Kingdom (uk), the United States of America (usa) and Australia (Poulsen, 2015) to remain missing from that list. Whilst they are, effectively, a child (a person aged under 18 years of age), is the only person in all three countries that it is legal to hit. This article seeks to restate arguments in this area in a simple way to restart the debate in a modern context where understanding of child abuse is perhaps more widespread than it ever was in the past. On 20 October 2014 a report, Living on a Railway Line, was launched in the uk to mark the 25th anniversary of the signing of the un Convention on the Rights of the Child, which took place on 20 November 1989 (Rowland, 2014). It recommended removing the defence of reasonable chastisement in relation to the punishment of children. This article seeks to build on that agenda in a comparative context taking a three way perspective from the uk, the usa and Australia. It concludes that moves to prevent family violence are progressive but the position of a society where physical punishment of children is permitted yet child abuse is forbidden is not a tenable one. Reducing the number of cases of child abuse must begin with a clear message from society that physical punishment of children, whatever the circumstances, is unacceptable. The situation is serious enough to introduce aspirational legislation to remove justifications for physical punishment of children with the aim of modifying behaviour within society.
The phrase “evolving capacities of the child” appears twice in the uncrc, under articles 5 and 14(2) in the framework of parental guidance. Yet the term “evolving capacities” appears over 80 times in the General Comments of the crc Committee. This paper examines the Committee’s use of “evolving capacities” in its General Comments, suggesting that the term has been treated as an enabling principle, an interpretative principle, and a policy principle within the framework of the uncrc. A broad principle of evolving capacities has thus emerged under the uncrc that informs not only the framework of parental guidance, but the whole of the Convention. However, the crc Committee does not recognise “evolving capacities” as a general principle or otherwise under the uncrc. This paper examines why this might be, and concludes that more consideration needs to be given to the role of “evolving capacities” as a principle under the uncrc.
The article proposes adopting the Capability Approach as a theoretical framework to analyse the child’s right to development. Currently, the child’s right to development is realised as the child’s right to become an adult. This interpretation is problematic on several grounds, primarily its usage of developmental psychology as an underlying narrative to conceptualise childhood and interpret children’s rights, and its lack of respect for children’s agency. Using the Capability Approach’s conception of ‘human development’ as an alternative framework can change the way in which childhood and children’s development are conceptualised and, consequently, change the interpretation of the child’s right to development. It can accommodate simultaneously care for the child’s future and the child’s life at the present; promote respect for a child’s agency and active participation in her own growth; and lay the foundations for developing concrete measures of implementation.