Belgian woman sentenced to prison for slapping 12-year-old son

Belgian woman sentenced to prison for slapping 12-year-old son
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A Belgian mother who slapped her 12-year-old son three years ago has been fined €400 and sentenced to four months in prison, Belgian media report.

The woman, a 40-year-old lawyer from Evere, is believed to have struck her son during an argument about her son's homework, which she claimed he had plagiarised. Her son then threw a water bottle at her, upon which she slapped him and threw a book at him. A neighbour who overheard the commotion subsequently notified the police.

Upon being arrested, the mother admitted that she had struck her son, but claimed that the slap had constituted a mere "pedagogical tap" (pedagogische tik): a legally-defined act which is not prohibited in Belgium, although it is banned in several other European countries, including France.

"In our country, a pedagogical tap is actually not punishable," the woman's lawyer, Benoit Lemal, explained. "I also emphasise that she never wanted to hurt her son. I don't want to justify or claim that this is the best way to teach your child something. It is a fact that this was preceded by a special context, which these facts do justify from a legal point of view."

Lemal elaborated that this "special context" included the fact that his client "was always on her own during the upbringing of her son", as well as the fact that she had only recently recovered from burnout and that her son suffers from ADHD.

No regrets?

In his written verdict, the judge overseeing the case ruled that the ferocity of the woman's slap exceeded the threshold for it to be considered a mere pedagogical tap. Moreover, he noted that the relative severity of the punishment was partly a consequence of the fact that the woman appeared to show no remorse for her actions during the court proceedings.

"The facts have a certain severity and reveal a dysfunction in the mother-son relationship," the judge remarked. "The court takes into account the fact that the child was certainly not easy, but must also note that there was no remorse from the defendant during the trial."

Parenting counsellors interviewed by Belgian media have since argued that pedagogical taps in fact have little educational value, and on the contrary often do considerable damage to the parent-child relationship.

"Sometimes a parent calls who used to receive a lot of blows as a child himself and says: what I did to my child cannot be compared with that," Ilse de Block, the Director of the Education Line (Opvoedingslijn), explained to De Standaard. "Yet there is a lot of powerlessness and also fear in these parents: they want to prevent recurrence. They are ashamed, because they are 'not a good parent'."

She added: "Especially with such a 12-year-old child, parents can feel that they are losing control. A slap does not help with that, on the contrary, it leads to more removal."

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