The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has produced an 11-page draft that recommends corporal punishment be outlawed in Cook Islands homes and all other settings.
The existing Crimes Act allows the use of force on children, for the purposes of correcting their behaviour. The committee expressed grave concern at this; most other countries now allow force only to protect a child from hurting themselves or others.
The Education Act 2012 had already banned corporal punishment in the nation’s schools, but the committee is seriously worried that such punishment remains legal in other settings, including in the home, alternative care settings, some forms of daycare and in penal institutions.
The committee’s main concern was that the draft Crimes Bill 2017, like the Crimes Act 1969, perpetuates the “so-called lawful correction of a child”.
At present, a person does not commit an offence in Cook Islands involving the use of physical force on a child if the physical force is applied by a parent or carer of the child and prevents or reduces harm to a child or another person.
In Section 32 of the Crimes Bill 2017, it is stated that the use of force is unreasonable if it is applied to part of a child’s head or neck or any other part of the child’s body that is likely to cause harm that lasts longer than a short period.
With reference to its general comment on corporal punishment, the committee urged the Cook Islands to repeal laws that permit corporal punishment of children and enact legislation to explicitly prohibit such punishment in all settings.
The committee also recommended intensifying efforts to promote positive, non-violent and participatory forms of child-rearing and discipline, including by strengthening awareness-raising programmes and campaigns targeting children, parents, teachers and traditional, religious and community leaders in the Cook Islands.
Among its other recommendations the committee expressed its concerns that the Cook Islands has not yet established a national human rights institution.
At the meeting, Minister of Internal Affairs, Mac Mokoroa said the Human Rights institution was to be established within the office of the Ombudsman.
Mokoroa who is also the minister for the Ombudsman Office said that in his last meeting with the ombudsman, this was still a work in progress.
Mokoroa said they have to discuss whether they have the capacity or the personnel to undertake the role.