Fighting violence against children

This Thursday I woke up hearing the sad news about the Nobel Price laureate Wisława Szymborska having passed away yesterday in Krakow – around 15 years after receiving the price in literature in Stockholm.

We have, of course, paid tribute to her on our website today

The morning continued with an opportunity to discuss – in some depth – one of the areas engaging me more than others. Children’s rights. And with some focus on violence against children.

It is an area with a great Polish tradition which is highlighted not least this year of Janusz Korczak – the famous pediatrician, pedagog and author who was killed in Treblinka seventy years ago together with the children from his orphanage that he refused to abandon.  

The venue for today’s meeting was the office of the Ombudsman for Children, and our interlocutor was the Ombudsman himself, Marek Michalak.

Our Embassy has cooperated with the Ombudsman before i.a. during the visit of the King and Queen when we together arranged a conference about the rights of disabled children.

Our conversation today, though, focused a lot on violence and the recently introduced legal ban on the use of corporal punishment towards children in Poland. Extremely encouraging to hear about it, having come into force August 1st 2010. 

I used to work a lot with these issues in my previous positions and remember finding a website with a huge amount of information: Facts, arguments, experiences. Also from Sweden.

Ombudsman Michalak showed me a map presenting countries with a legal ban introduced. The number is growing: 31 states is the figure I have seen. And both Poland and Sweden are there. But it is still a long way to go. The total number of countries counted is 198… It should however be noted that rather many of them have introduced at least a ban in schools.

Still, a key issue is of course implementation which requires a change of attitudes, mindsets. A move to address discipline through other, more constructive methods.

Mr Michalak told me that the acceptance for corporal punishment, though still rather high, has decreased significantly according to the latest poll.

I remember some years ago preparing a speech about the Swedish experiences in this area I found a moving story. In 1978, the year before our Parliament passed the law abolishing every form of corporal punishment Astrid Lindgren, the famous Swedish writer of children’s book, received a German price. Her acceptance speech was entitled “Never Violence” and included a story once told to her by an old woman.

As a young mother the woman had heard that smacking was a necessary part of a child’s upbringing. One day her young son had done something she thought warranted punishment, so she told the boy to go into the woods to find a birch with which she could beat him.

“The boy was away for a long time and eventually returned in tears, saying:

- I couldn’t find a birch but here’s a stone you can throw at me.

The mother suddenly saw the situation through her son’s eyes and began to cry too.

The child must have thought:
- My mother wants to hurt me so she might as well use a stone.

She hugged him and the two cried together for a while. Then she placed the stone on a shelf in the kitchen, where it remained as a constant reminder of the lifelong pledge that she made at that very moment: never violence!”

A simple golden rule from Astrid Lindgren. Never ever violence against children.





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