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Humiliation, denigration, shouting, excessive punishment: physical and psychological violence soon banned by decree at school

To date, twenty-three Member States of the European Union have adopted normative frameworks aimed at expressly prohibiting corporal punishment and any other form of degrading treatment of children. Belgium is not one of them.

In our country, no text has yet been adopted to comply with international legal instruments such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The Belgian state has also been called to order on several occasions, notably by the Committee on the Rights of the Child and the UN Human Rights Council, without result.

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We don’t talk about what happens in families

For its part, the government of the Wallonia-Brussels Federation has decided to act. He has just submitted a draft decree “relating to the prohibition of violence against children in structures authorized, approved, subsidized or organized by the French Community”. We are therefore not talking here about what happens in families (which falls under the jurisdiction of the federal authority in matters of civil law), but rather in the sectors over which the Federation has supervision, namely education, early childhood care, free time care, youth, youth assistance, sports and culture. The text will soon be examined in committee.

Of course, the Penal Code already condemns intentional assault and battery. A whole series of provisions are provided for which take into account the age of the victim. The fact of committing a violent act against a minor while having authority over him is thus considered an aggravating circumstance.

But the text goes beyond the scope of these physical attacks alone. It aims to prohibit all forms of violence, physical or psychological, against children, including what is called ordinary educational violence. Concretely, it is all the physical, psychological or verbal violence exercised as an educational means on a child, aimed at correcting certain behaviors or punishing.

“Children are beings under construction, vulnerable, dependent, who need to be protected against all forms of violence that can be committed in various institutionswe read. Hitting, humiliating or shouting at a child, even for educational purposes, are forms of violence.”

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Avoid any remarks, just in case?

Take the case of school. The concrete forms of violence can be multiple. “Yes, it exists, assures Véronique De Thier of Fapeo (the federation of parents’ associations in official education). Even if we don’t talk about it much.” Some examples: bring a child back into line by pulling him by the collar, deprive him of dessert or playtime, tear up a homework assignment, throw a telephone, pull his ears, put him in the corner, threaten, give a demeaning nickname or, even, treat an idiot or a hopeless case.

Are each of these acts systematically violent? Exaggerating the point a little, should any remarks be avoided, just in case? “The ban on violence against children in no way means the end of children’s education, which is also a rightfurther specifies the text. Children need to be supervised by rules, prohibitions and a respectful education that helps them build themselves. In this sense, laxity and neglect can also constitute forms of violence affecting the development of children.”

We can clearly see how avoiding anything that could be perceived as violent while enforcing strict rules can be difficult. This is why the draft decree also plans to support and raise awareness among professionals about positive education. It also remains to be clarified what will happen in the event of violence once the text has been voted on.

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