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Maya Gebeily

Lebanese law on child abuse repealed, then reinstated

MPs say the exemption preserves “family unity” in Lebanon

Lebanese school children play on Beirut

In a legal double-take last week, Lebanon’s parliament deleted, then partially reinstated, an article in the national penal code related to violence against children. The move angered children’s rights advocates in Lebanon, who cited legal confusion and social responsibility in its opposition to the article.

 

On April 9, Lebanon’s parliament voted to repeal Article 186 of Lebanon’s penal code, which permitted parents and teachers to use violence in disciplining children. 24 hours later, Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri brought the article back up for discussion, saying the previous day’s ruling had been “unclear” and citing pressure from “religious figures” to review the decision. After its second vote, parliament decided to partially reinstate the article, permitting parents to use “non-violent discipline” and removing teachers from the article in question.

 

The article must be approved by Lebanon's president before coming into effect.

 

When asked about her reaction to last week’s parliamentary half-step, Bassima Roumani, the legal consultant and social affairs expert for Himaya, a Lebanese NGO focused on child protection, let out an exasperated laugh. She said she was hoping to see Article 186 completely abolished.

 

Instead, Roumani says what parliamentarians have done is create a lot of confusion. “So now every time a kid gets beaten, we have to get out the dictionary to check whether it was ‘non-violent discipline’ or not?” Without a clear definition in the article itself, Roumani said the issue has been left murky.

 

For Future Movement MP Mohammad Hajjar, who voted to preserve Article 186, the answer is clear. In an interview on Voice of Lebanon after the vote, Hajjar said the article would protect family unity in Lebanon. He asked whether he would be sent to jail for slapping his son on the wrist, and that Lebanese families shouldn’t move toward being “more Western.”

 

But another Future MP had a different take. “I voted on a principle, and violence is not a way to raise kids at all,” said MP Ahmad Fatfat, who went against the majority of his party when he voted to strike the amendment down. A video broadcast by LBCI reported that, generally, members of the Future Movement, the Amal Movement, Hezbollah, and the Loyalty to the Resistance bloc voted to preserve the article, while the Kataeb Party, the Lebanese Forces Party, and the Free Patriotic Movement tried to abolish it.* There were several exceptions, including Fatfat. When asked why he chose to vote the way he did, Fatfat said the issue was a social and philosophical one – not one tied to political parties.  

 

Lebanon does have a stand-alone child protection law, developed in accordance with the United Nations’ rights of the child and passed by the Lebanese parliament in 2002. According to Himaya’s Roumani, Law 422 “does protect kids,” but there are significant problems with its implementation.

 

“If the judge tells the attacker that he or she has to release the child to a court, to an NGO, another relative, or so on, and if the attacker refuses, then they get a notice that they are violating a judicial order,” Roumani said. She says the Ministry of Justice is overflowing with these notices, and they rarely get implemented. Sometimes, juvenile judges will issue a compulsory fine for the abuser, but even this measure doesn’t guarantee compliance with the initial order.

 

The law also discusses the establishment of a “Family Protection Unit” within the Lebanese security forces that would be trained to receive and properly handle reports of domestic abuse. This unit has yet to be established, but hotlines are available through the Ministry of Social Affairs as well as Himaya itself. “Relatively, the law is really modern, but its implementation is the problem,” Roumani told NOW.  

 

Besides the confusion surrounding the definition of “non-violent discipline,” the reinstatement of Article 186 of the penal code creates direct contradiction with Law 422. Lama Fakih, the Syria and Lebanon researcher at Human Rights Watch, told NOW that Lebanon’s penal code is still not in compliance with the 2002 law. Roumani agrees: “They put a law in place that protects kids, then they put an article in somewhere else that says parents can hit their kids.”

 

The solution, Roumani and Fakih said, is to repeal Article 186 altogether and explicitly ban violence against children.  Himaya’s demands are that the article either be abolished, or replaced with a clear amendment that penalizes anyone for being violent against children – whether family members or teachers.

 

When asked what message she wanted to send to MPs, Roumani said Article 186 gives parents a “weapon to be able to execute violence against their children,” and that contrary to parliamentarians’ statements, “families aren’t protected by violence.”

 

“Families are protected by laws that ban violence. When we ban violence, little by little, we can reach a healthy family and a healthy society.” 

 

*A representative of the Progressive Socialist Party could not be reached to confirm how the party voted. 

Although teachers are now banned from using violence against children, parents are still included in Article 186. (AFP photo/Joseph Eid)

“They put a law in place that protects kids, then they put an article in somewhere else that says parents can hit their kids.”