Laos Makes History as First Southeast Asian Nation to Ban Child Corporal Punishment

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Laos Makes History as First Southeast Asian Nation to Ban Child Corporal Punishment
©UNICEF Lao PDR/2015/AVitikainen

Laos has just become the first in Southeast Asia to officially outlaw corporal punishment to fully protect children from all forms of violent punishment. The country, where violence on children is prevalent, especially in rural areas, might have shed its bad reputation when Globally, Laos is the 66th nation to legally prohibit corporal punishment.

The Ministry of Justice celebrated this milestone on 30 April, marking a crucial step towards safeguarding children’s rights. 

The latest amendment to the 2006 Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Children, effective since December 2023, shows the nation’s commitment to the ASEAN Regional Plan of Action for the Elimination of Violence Against Children, according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund (UNICEF). 

Speaking on the primary changes in the amended regulation,  Khamsay Lemsouthi, Child Protection Specialist from UNICEF Laos, noted that the amendment explicitly prohibits hitting children with any object or by hand which includes punching, kicking, shaking, burning, pushing, throwing, grabbing, biting, choking, slapping, as well as any form of sexual violence.

“The previous law was broad and lacked specificity,” Khamsay explained. “It simply stated that children should not be physically or mentally harmed.”

Early indications of the country’s commitment to child protection appeared in the 2023 Lao Social Indicator Survey (LSIS III), which showed a reduction in violent discipline, with physical punishment rates in 2023 declining from 7 percent to 62 percent among children aged 1-14.

“It is a clear signal of our dedication to improve law enforcement and protect the rights of every child,” said Kongchi Yangchue, Deputy Minister of Justice and the Head of the Committee to Revise the Law on the Protection of Children’s Rights and Interests.

She further explained that the new regulation applies to all places, institutions, and environments.

“Whether you’re a teacher, parent, or any adult, the new regulation prohibits everyone from harming children,” she emphasized.

From Training to Support Systems, Laos Commits to Upholding the Law

To ensure widespread awareness of the new law across both urban and rural Laos, UNICEF and the Ministry of Justice have launched media campaigns on television and radio. Additionally, they have utilized social media platforms such as Facebook and TikTok to reach a wider audience.

Recognizing that media advertisements alone may not be sufficient, the child aid organization and the Lao government are also planning offline campaigns to educate rural citizens. These campaigns include on-site education and distribution of brochures in Lao. The material is yet to be translated into local languages.

“We make sure that the content in the brochures is simple and easy to understand,” explained Khamsay. “We use plain language and avoid formalities to ensure that the amended law is accessible to both adults and children.”

Despite the new regulation and advertisements, the Child Protection Specialist acknowledges the potential for under-enforcement of the law. Therefore, UNICEF is intensifying its efforts to raise awareness. One such effort is conducting training for government officials.

“We have trained a wide range of officials, including social activists, provincial and district governors, and village chiefs,” she explained.

According to Khamsay, children who are subjected to corporal punishment, as well as witnesses of such abuse, can now report the case to public security in their respective areas. Additionally, hotlines operated by the Women’s Union and Lao Youth Union are available 24/7 for consultations.

Currently, consultation centers are only available in certain districts, including Vientiane Capital. Luang Namtha, Savannakhet, and Xieng Khouang. Residents of these districts can visit the centers in person to speak with professional consultants. For those in districts without a center, they can access support by making a phone call instead.

Khamsay explained that the assistance provided to victims may vary depending on the severity of the case. It can range from consultations to medical funding and filing a report with the police.

The Chief went on to express her gratitude for the successful implementation of the law, which took two years to get approved by the government.

“It was a bit challenging in the beginning to get the government on the same page as us [UNICEF],” she explained. “We had to explain to them the necessity of changing the law and why it needs to specify each action of violence against children. I’m glad things worked out in the end.”

This process, coordinated with multiple ministries and stakeholders, highlighted the Lao government’s dedication to embedding children’s rights within its legislative framework.

“The Lao government gives priority to child protection by assigning the Ministry of Justice to revise and amend the Law on the Protection of the Rights and Interests of Children to ensure that Lao children are protected, especially protection children from all forms of violence,” said Minister of Justice Kongchi Yangchue.

This prohibition of corporal punishment is part of a comprehensive strategy aimed at bolstering child protection and addressing violence against children in all environments, including homes, schools, and online spaces. This initiative is in line with the Government’s Second Five-year National Plan of Action for Prevention and Elimination of Violence Against Children (2021 – 2025), which concentrates on enhancing systems and capacities for preventing and responding to violence.

Laos’ decision to outlaw corporal punishment demonstrates its commitment to creating a safer environment for its children. This legislative change not only aligns with international standards but also sets a precedent for other nations in the region to follow.