Govt to delete child discipline provision in Civil Code revision, specify prohibition of physical punishment

Amid concerns over child abuse, a Civil Code provision that allows parents the right to discipline their children is being considered for deletion by a working group of the Legislative Council, an advisory panel to the justice minister, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The council, which has been reviewing the provision, is also planning to add a new provision specifying that physical punishment is prohibited.

Draft guidelines for that purpose will be finalized at a meeting of the working group in early February, and will be approved at a general meeting of the council in mid-February, according to sources.

Based on the guidelines, the government has the intention of submitting a bill to revise the Civil Code to the ordinary Diet session to be convened on Jan. 17.

Regarding the discipline right, Article 822 of the Civil Code stipulates “A person who exercises parental authority may discipline the child to the extent necessary for the care and education” of children.

Although the provision was not originally intended to allow physical punishment, it has been pointed out that it serves as a reason to justify child abuse in the name of a “disciplinary issue.”

In the draft guidelines, the working group plans to delete the provision, and instead set out a code of conduct for parents in disciplining their children, on the grounds that “when parents engage in the care and education of children, they must respect children’s personalities and take into account the children’s ages and degree of development.”

Based on that, the working group intends to add another provision to prohibit “physical punishment of children by parents” and “behavior that has a harmful influence on children’s bodies and minds.”

Through the revisions, the working group aims to make it clear that acts of physical punishment by parents and attempts to drive children mentally into a corner are not equivalent to disciplining children in an appropriate manner.

The ministry has started full-fledged discussions on the review of the Civil Code provision on the right to discipline, spurred on by fatal child abuse cases that happened in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, in March 2018 and Noda, Chiba Prefecture, in January 2019.

In June 2019, the child abuse prevention law was revised, which bans parents from administering physical punishment when they discipline children. The supplement to the law said that discussions would be made on the ideal form of discipline around two years after the law came into effect.

In a midterm draft proposal compiled by the Legislative Council in February last year, it was proposed that Article 822 of the Civil Code be deleted and wording prohibiting physical punishment be added.

“In Sweden, which has legally declared the prohibition of physical punishment and promoted an awareness-raising campaign on the issue, it has been reported that the efforts have produced tangible results in reducing physical punishment and abuse,” said Yasumichi Mori, a lawyer who is well versed in these issues. “The legal revision will also have large significance in Japan.”