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Physical punishment and the response of the Canadian child welfare system: implications for legislative reform

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Currently, the Criminal Code of Canada provides a defence to assault for persons in authority who use physical punishment with children. This defence has been challenged in the Ontario courts on the grounds that it violates children's constitutional rights. Some child welfare authorities fear that if the defence were repealed the child protection system would be flooded with reports of abuse. In the present study, the potential impact of a repeal on child welfare services was assessed through an examination of current child welfare responses to reports of physical punishment. Examination of a national sample of child maltreatment investigations revealed that physical punishment is one of the most common types of maltreatment investigated by the Canadian child welfare system and that services are being provided in these cases. These findings suggest that the Canadian child welfare system is already in a position to respond to changes in the Criminal Code. The effectiveness of its response would likely be increased by the repeal of the defence.

Keywords: Section 43; child physical abuse; child protection; legislative reform; physical punishment

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: 1: University of Toronto, Canada 2: University of Manitoba, Canada

Publication date: February 1, 2003

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