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Tuesday's papers: Corporal punishment of children persists, overbred dogs suffer and an obstructionist constitution

Finland's print press this Tuesday looks at a survey on the physical punishment of children - an illegal practice in Finland since 1985, how dogs with short snouts are being bred to ill-health, and a survey on how the public sees the Finnish Constitution.

Presidentti Sauli Niinistö ja puoliso Jenni Haukio.
Finland's first dog 'Lennu' is a Boston Terrier. Image: Martti Kainulainen / Lehtikuva

Helsingin Sanomat reports this Tuesday on a new study that finds that one-quarter of Finns resort to corporal punishment with their children. The Central Union for Child Welfare discovered that although attitudes are now much more against the practice, with support down to 13 percent from 2004's percentage of 34, up to 41 percent of parents admit to having engaged in slapping, hitting, pulling hair or threatening violence with their offspring.

Finland outlawed corporal punishment of children in the early 1980s, enacting a societal change that improved their status considerably. Several campaigns against the practice were also effective in getting the word out, as the poll published today indicated that almost of the responding parents were aware that disciplining their children in this way was illegal.   

”There are still many parents that don't think of pulling hair or flicking at a child's head as a form of violence. They are nevertheless detrimental, illegal and altogether condemnable behaviour," says the Union's specialist Sauli Hyvärinen. 

Women tend to be more violent with their children then men, the study shows. Whereas in 2007, 15 percent of men and 16 percent of women said they smacked their children, this year's results saw the percentage for men fall to 5 percent and hover at 12 percent for women. Hyvärinen says this can be explained by two things: many men that answered the survey did not answer this question, and "women still carry more of the child-rearing responsibility when the children are small. Children under school age bear the brunt of most of the physical punishment," he tells HS.

Fido can't breathe

The tabloid Iltalehti looks into another form of persecution for our furry family members with a story on overbreeding creating problems for brachycephalic breeds of dogs. A new book published today on the issue calls attention to the million-euro business surrounding dogs. Pedigree dogs in particular are at risk of being inbred into extinction because of our obsession with the way dogs look.

Dogs with short snouts, like English and French Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, Boxers, Bullmastiffs, Pugs, Shih Tzus, and Rottweilers have suffered the most, the book says, because their noses have been bred to be so short that they have breathing problems. IL interviews some dog owners who have had to bring their pets in for surgery to enlarge their nostrils, for example.

A member of the Finnish Kennel Club tells IL that the situation is becoming catastrophic.

"Dog breeding has, in my opinion, been like the Titanic heading towards the iceberg for a long time. Many breeds are heading into a dead-end with their breeding," the Club's vice-chair of a breeding committee, Kirsi Sainio, tells the paper.

Positive changes in some areas

She says Finland's animal rights legislation makes it possible for the authorities to intervene if a breeder's activities are questionable, but that this rarely happens. The book cites that the Kennel Club has informed the police about several breeders it feels are acting illegally, but investigations have not led to charges.

Animal inspector Tiina Pullola from the Ministry of Agriculture says a new specific law on animal breeding will provide clearer instructions for inspection and criminal charges in future.

Progress is being made in some areas, the Kennel Club points out: the Cavalier King Charles Spaniel made headlines a few years ago after misguided breeding led to painful cases of syringomyelia in the breed. The back half of the dog's skull had grown too small to accommodate the animal's brain, after breeders kept perpetuating smaller head sizes with their breeding choices.

Sainio says the Cavalier has made a comeback, however, after general awareness of the problem spread and corrective measures were taken.

"All of the negative publicity forced the breeders to wake up. Let's hope this will be the case with the brachycephalic breeds, too," she tells IL.

Criticizing the Constitution

And the Keskisuomalainen newspaper out of central Jyväskylä features a story this Tuesday on a new poll of Finns that finds that one out of every four feels Finland's constitutional law is too restrictive of efforts to enact legislative reform. Some 40 percent of Finns Party voters feel this way, as do over a third of supporters of the government parties.

The poll suggests that 31 percent of men and 20 percent of women feel the Finnish Constitution is holding back new legislation with its rigidness. Among income brackets, people earning over 75,000 euros a year are most likely to feel this way. The data was from a USU Gallup, with a three percent margin of error.

Committee chair responds

Annika Lapintie, chair of the constitution law committee in Parliament comments to the paper on the survey, saying that the Constitution didn't just fall out of the sky, as it is the result of lengthy, vigilant multi-party committee work. Changes to the Finnish Constitution must be approved by two successive parliaments before they can be enacted.

"The purpose of constitutional law is to work as the foundation upon which other legislation and amendments are built," she says. "The biggest change took place in 1995, when guarantees of economic, cultural and social rights to all people in Finland were added."

Lapintie denies that the Constitution would somehow prevent legal reforms.

"Last year the Parliament's constitutional law committee drew up 70 statements, but you can count the number that had constitutional compliance issues on one hand."

Only minor changes necessary

Over half proceeded to the parliamentary floor with no problem. Of those that were flagged for inconsistencies, most were approved after minor changes or corrections were made.

Examples include requiring that a legal amendment guarantee a legal assistant be present when an underage asylum seeker meets with authorities, and the striking down of plans to pay lower labour market subsidies to immigrants. Both changes made the laws better compliant with Finland's constitutional right to non-discrimination.

Another instance in which the committee flagged a proposal was plans to increase speeding fines.

"The committee found that the arguments for the increase were problematic. Ever since the 16th century in Finland, the Constitution has stated that punishment cannot be doled out because the state needs more money."

Edit 20.9: The text was changed to read: "A member of the Finnish Kennel Club" and change Kirsi Sainio's title to vice-chair of the club's breeding committee, at the Finnish Kennel Club's request. 

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