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Corporal punishment is a form of physical punishment that involves the deliberate infliction of pain as retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining or reforming a wrongdoer, or to deter attitudes or behaviour deemed unacceptable. The term usually refers to methodically striking the offender with the open hand or with an implement, whether in judicial, domestic, or educational settings.
Corporal punishment is defined by the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child as:
"any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light."
Corporal punishment may be divided into three main types:
- Parental or domestic corporal punishment: within the family—typically, children punished by parents or guardians;
- School corporal punishment: within schools, when students are punished by teachers or school administrators, or, in the past, apprentices by master craftsmen;
- Judicial corporal punishment: as part of a criminal sentence ordered by a court of law. Closely related is prison corporal punishment, ordered either directly by the prison authorities or by a visiting court. Corporal punishment is also still allowed in some military settings, and banned in others.
Corporal punishment of minors within domestic settings is still lawful in 49 of the United States. Delaware outlawed it as child abuse in 2012. In a 2000 survey it was widely approved by US parents. It has been officially outlawed in 34 countries (2013).
Corporal punishment in school has been outlawed in Canada, Kenya, Korea, South Africa, New Zealand and nearly all of Europe.
It remains legal in some parts of the world, including France where it is lawful in the home and is not explicitly banned in schools, but is unlawful there however, as a sentence for criminal punishment. In the U.S. it is legal in both public and private schools in 19 states. It is explicitly unlawful in the U.S. states of New Jersey and Iowa. Judicial corporal punishment has virtually disappeared from countries of eastern and western Europe, including former states of the Soviet Union. However, it remains more widespread in its legal acceptance in many parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America.
There are various national and international campaigns against corporal punishment.
- 1 History
- 2 International law
- 3 Modern use
- 4 Differing views about corporal punishment
- 5 Anatomical target
- 6 Ritual and punishment
- 7 See also
- 8 References
- 9 External links
He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes.
Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell.
It was certainly present in classical civilisations, being used in Greece, Rome, and Egypt for both judicial and educational discipline. Some states gained a reputation for using such punishments cruelly; Sparta, in particular, used them as part of a disciplinary regime designed to build willpower and physical strength. Although the Spartan example was extreme, corporal punishment was possibly the most frequent type of punishment. In the Roman Empire, the maximum penalty that a Roman citizen could receive under the law was 40 "lashes" or "strokes" with a whip applied to the back and shoulders, or with the "fasces" (similar to a birch rod, but consisting of 8–10 lengths of willow rather than birch) applied to the buttocks. Such punishments could draw blood, and were frequently inflicted in public.
Quintilian's (c. 35 – c. 100) early and complete opposition to corporal punishment is notable. According to McCole Wilson, probably no more lucid indictment of it has been made in the succeeding two thousand years.
By that boys should suffer corporal punishment, though it is received by custom, and Chrysippus makes no objection to it, I by no means approve; first, because it is a disgrace, and a punishment fit for slaves, and in reality (as will be evident if you imagine the age change) an affront; secondly, because, if a boy's disposition be so abject as not to be amended by reproof, he will be hardened, like the worst of slaves, even to stripes; and lastly, because, if one who regularly exacts his tasks be with him, there will not be the need of any chastisement...
Besides, after you have coerced a boy with stripes, how will you treat him when he becomes a young man, to whom such terror cannot be held out, and by whom more difficult studies must be pursued? Add to these considerations, that many things unpleasant to be mentioned, and likely afterwards to cause shame, often happen to boys while being whipped, under the influence of pain or fear; and such shame enervates and depresses the mind, and makes them shun people's sight and feel constant uneasiness ... scandalously unworthy men may abuse the privilege of punishing, and what opportunity also the terror of the unhappy children may sometimes afford others. (Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory, 1856 edition, I, III)
Plutarch, also in the first century, says something similar:
This also I assert, that children ought to be led to honourable practices by means of encouragement and reasoning, and most certainly not by blows or ill-treatment, for it surely is agreed that these are fitting rather for slaves than for the free-born; for so they grow numb and shudder at their tasks, partly from the pain of the blows, partly from the degradation. Praise and reproof are more helpful for the free-born than any sort of ill-usage, since the praise incites them toward what is honourable, and reproof keeps them from what is disgraceful.
In Medieval Europe, corporal punishment was encouraged by the attitudes of the medieval church towards the human body, flagellation being a common means of self-discipline. This had an influence on the use of corporal punishment in schools, as educational establishments were closely attached to the church during this period. Nevertheless, corporal punishment was not used uncritically; as early as the eleventh century Saint Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury was speaking out against what he saw as the excessive use of corporal punishment in the treatment of children.
From the 16th century onwards, new trends were seen in corporal punishment. Judicial punishments were increasingly turned into public spectacles, with public beatings of criminals intended as a deterrent to other would-be offenders. Meanwhile, early writers on education, such as Roger Ascham, complained of the arbitrary manner in which children were punished.
Peter Newell assumes that perhaps the most influential writer on the subject was the English philosopher John Locke, whose Some Thoughts Concerning Education explicitly criticised the central role of corporal punishment in education. Locke's work was highly influential, and may have helped influence Polish legislators to ban corporal punishment from Poland's schools in 1783, the first country in the world to do so.
During the 18th century, the concept of corporal punishment was attacked by some philosophers and legal reformers. Merely inflicting pain on miscreants was seen as inefficient, influencing the subject only for a short period of time and effecting no permanent change in their behaviour. Some believed that the purpose of punishment should be reformation, not retribution. This is perhaps best expressed in Jeremy Bentham's idea of a panoptic prison, in which prisoners were controlled and surveyed at all times, perceived to be advantageous in that this system supposedly reduced the need of measures such as corporal punishment.
A consequence of this mode of thinking was a reduction in the use of corporal punishment in the 19th century in Europe and North America. In some countries this was encouraged by scandals involving individuals seriously hurt during acts of corporal punishment. For instance, in Britain, popular opposition to punishment was encouraged by two significant cases, the death of Private Frederick John White, who died after a military flogging in 1846, and the death of Reginald Cancellor, killed by his schoolmaster in 1860. Events such as these mobilised public opinion and, by the late nineteenth century, the extent of corporal punishment's use in state schools was unpopular with many parents in England. Authorities in Britain and some other countries introduced more detailed rules for the infliction of corporal punishment in government institutions such as schools, prisons and reformatories. By the First World War, parents' complaints about disciplinary excesses in England had died down, and corporal punishment was established as an expected form of school discipline.
In the 1870s, courts in the United States overruled the common-law principle that a husband had the right to "physically chastise an errant wife". In the UK the traditional right of a husband to inflict moderate corporal punishment on his wife in order to keep her "within the bounds of duty" was similarly removed in 1891. See Domestic violence for more information.
In the United Kingdom, the use of judicial corporal punishment declined during the first half of the 20th century and it was abolished altogether in the Criminal Justice Act, 1948 (zi & z2 GEo. 6. CH. 58.), whereby whipping and flogging were outlawed except for use in very serious internal prison discipline cases, while most other European countries had abolished it earlier. Meanwhile in many schools, the use of the cane, paddle or tawse remained commonplace in the UK and the United States until the 1980s. In several other countries, it still is: see School corporal punishment.
Key developments related to corporal punishment happen only in the late 20th century. Years with particular significance to the prohibition of corporal punishment are emphasised.
- 1950: European Convention of Human Rights, Council of Europe. Article 3 bars "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment".
- 1985: Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice, or Beijing Rules, United Nations (UN). Rule 17.3: "Juveniles shall not be subject to corporal punishment."
- 1990 Supplement: Rules for the Protection of Juveniles Deprived of their Liberty. Rule 67: "...all disciplinary measures constituting cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment shall be strictly prohibited, including corporal punishment..."
- 1990: Guidelines for the Prevention of Juvenile Delinquency, the Riyadh Guidelines, UN. Paragraph 21(h): education systems should avoid "harsh disciplinary measures, particularly corporal punishment."
- 1966: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, UN, with currently 167 parties, 74 signatories. Article 7: "No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment..."
- 1984: Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, UN, with currently 150 parties and 78 signatories.
- 1966: International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, UN, with currently 160 parties, and 70 signatories. Article 13(1): "education shall be directed to the full development of the human personality and the sense of its dignity..."
- 1961: European Social Charter, Council of Europe.
Breakthroughs regarding children’s rights were made in the early 20th century, but the condemnation of corporal punishment in specific happens only in the late 20th century. Years with particular significance to the prohibition of corporal punishment are emphasised.
- 1923: Children's Rights Proclamation by Save the Children founder. (5 articles).
- 1924 Adopted as the World Child Welfare Charter, League of Nations (non-enforceable).
- 1989: Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN (54 articles; binding international-law), with currently 193 parties and 140 signatories. Article 19.1: "States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation . . . ."
- 2001: Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children launched, "call[ing] on governments to declare their opposition to corporal punishment of children."
- 2006: Study on Violence against Children presented by Independent Expert for the Secretary-General to the UN General Assembly.
- 2007: Post of Special Representative of the Secretary-General on violence against children established.
The earliest recorded attempt to prohibit corporal punishment of children by a state dates back to Poland in 1783. However, its prohibition in all spheres of life – in homes, schools, the penal system and alternative care settings – occurred first in 1979 in Sweden. The new Swedish Parental Code reads: "Children are entitled to care, security and a good upbringing. Children are to be treated with respect for their person and individuality and may not be subjected to corporal punishment or any other humiliating treatment." 30 states have now completely prohibited corporal punishment of children by law. In addition, supreme-court rulings prohibit CP in 2 further states while another 21 states have officially committed to full prohibition. States that have completely prohibited corporal punishment of children by law are, in chronological order:
New Zealand (2007)
Costa Rica (2008)
Republic of Moldova (2008)
Congo, Republic of (2010)
South Sudan (2011)
For a more detailed overview of the global use and prohibition of the corporal punishment of children, see the following table.
|Home||Schools||Penal system||Alternative care settings|
|As sentence for crime||As disciplinary measure|
Corporal punishment in the home
Domestic corporal punishment, i.e. of children by their parents, is usually referred to colloquially as "spanking", "whipping", "smacking," or "slapping." One possible method of spanking is to have the child lying, stomach down, across the parent's lap, with the parent bringing their open hand down upon the child's buttocks. Alternatively, the youngster might be told to bend over, or lie face down across a bed. Spankings may be delivered over the trousers, over the undergarments, or upon the bare buttocks.
In an increasing number of countries it has been outlawed, starting with Sweden in 1979. In some other countries, corporal punishment is legal, but restricted (e.g. blows to the head are outlawed and implements may not be used, and/or only children within a certain age range may be spanked).
In the United States, all African nations (except South Sudan, Kenya, Togo, Tunisia and the Republic of the Congo) and all Asian nations (except Israel), "spanking," "whipping," "smacking," or "slapping" by parents is currently legal; it is also legal to use certain implements such as a belt or paddle.
In Canada, spanking by parents or legal guardians (but nobody else) is legal, as long as the child is not under 2 years or over 12 years of age, and no implement other than an open, bare hand is used (belts, paddles, etc. are strictly prohibited). Provinces can legally impose tighter restrictions than the aforementioned national restrictions, or even complete bans, but none currently does so.
In the UK, spanking or smacking is legal, but it must not leave a mark on the body and in Scotland since October 2003 it has been illegal to use any implements when disciplining a child. In Wales, in October 2011, the National Assembly voted to pass a bill to completely ban corporal punishment in the home, but the law is unlikely to be enacted before the end of this assembly term.
In Pakistan, Section 89 of Pakistan Penal Code allows corporal punishment. The Government of Pakistan has yet to repeal this law.
Corporal punishment in schools
Corporal punishment of school students for misbehaviour has been outlawed in many countries. It involves striking the student on the buttocks or the palm of the hand in a premeditated ceremony with an implement specially kept for the purpose such as a rattan cane or spanking paddle, or with the open hand. There may be restrictions in some jurisdictions, e.g. in Singapore caning is permitted for boys only.
Judicial or quasi-judicial punishment
Some 33 countries retain judicial corporal punishment, including a number of former British territories such as Botswana, Malaysia, Singapore and Tanzania. In Malaysia and Singapore, for certain specified offences, males are routinely sentenced to caning in addition to a prison term. The Singaporean practice of caning became much discussed around the world in 1994 when American teenager Michael P. Fay was caned for vandalism.
A number of countries with an Islamic legal system, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan and northern Nigeria, employ judicial whipping for a range of offences. As of 2009[update], some regions of Pakistan are experiencing a breakdown of law and government, leading to a reintroduction of corporal punishment by ad hoc Islamicist courts. As well as corporal punishment, some Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran use other kinds of physical penalties such as amputation or mutilation. However, the term "corporal punishment" has since the 19th century usually meant caning, flogging or whipping rather than those other types of physical penalty.
Differing views about corporal punishment
In the book In Defense of Flogging, Peter Moskos, an assistant professor of law and former police officer, suggests that a long prison sentence can be more inhumane than a flogging. Moskos believes that many criminals would elect to receive a few lashes (under medical supervision), and questions whether flogging should ever be an option. As reasons to consider such corporal punishment, Moskos cites studies showing that higher rates of incarceration have little effect on decreasing crime (e.g. the deterrence argument), and that the United States' incarceration rate is five times the world's average. He further worries that most criminals are not the kinds who will need to be kept out of society for the rest of their lives, and that prisons and sentences rarely focus on realistic rehabilitation methods. One reviewer for The Economist writes, about Moskos's book, that "Perhaps the most damning evidence of the broken American prison system is that it makes a proposal to reinstate flogging appear almost reasonable. Almost."
Different parts of the anatomy may be targeted:
- The buttocks, whether clothed or bare, have often been targeted for punishment, particularly in Europe and the English-speaking world. Indeed, some languages have a specific word for their chastisement: spanking in English, fessée in French, nalgada in Spanish (both Romanesque words directly derived from the word for buttock), klaps in Polish (derived from the name of the sound produced by spanking). The advantage is that these fleshy body parts are robust and can be chastised accurately, without endangering any bodily functions; they heal well and relatively quickly; in some cultures punishment applied to the buttocks entails a degree of humiliation, which may or may not be intended as part of the punishment.
- Chastising the back of the thighs and calves, as sometimes in South Korean schools, is at least as painful if not more so.
- The upper back and the shoulders have historically been a target for whipping, e.g. in the UK with the cat-o'-nine-tails in the Royal Navy and in some pre-1948 judicial punishments, and also today generally in the Middle East and the Islamic world.
- The hand is very sensitive to injury, and use of an implement could cause excessive damage.
- The soles of the feet are extremely sensitive, and flogging them (falaka), as has been sometimes done in the Middle East, is excruciating.
Ritual and punishment
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (July 2007)|
Corporal punishment in official settings, such as schools and prisons, has typically been carried out as a formal ceremony, with a standard procedure, emphasising the solemnity of the occasion. It may even be staged in a ritual manner in front of other students/inmates, in order to act as a deterrent to others.
In the case of prison or judicial punishments, formal punishment might begin with the offender stripped of some or all of their clothing and secured to a piece of furniture, such as a trestle or frame, (X-cross), punishment horse or falaka. In some cases the nature of the offence is read out and the sentence (consisting of a predetermined number of strokes) is formally imposed. A variety of implements may be used to inflict blows on the offender. The terms used to describe these are not fixed, varying by country and by context. There are, however, a number of common types that are encountered when reading about corporal punishment. These include:
- The rod. A thin, flexible rod is often called a switch.
- The birch, a number of strong, flexible branches of birch or similar wood, bound together with twine into a single implement.
- The rattan cane (not bamboo as it is often wrongly described). Much favoured in the British Commonwealth for both school and judicial use.
- The paddle, a flat wooden board with a handle, with or without holes. Used in US schools.
- The strap. A leather strap with a number of tails at one end, called a tawse, was used in schools in Scotland and some parts of northern England.
- The whip, typically of leather. Varieties include the Russian knout and South African sjambok, in addition to the scourge and the French martinet.
- The cat o' nine tails was used in British naval discipline and as a judicial and prison punishment.
- The hairbrush and belt were traditionally used in the United States and Britain as an implement for domestic spanking.
- The plimsoll or gym shoe, used in British and Commonwealth schools, as well as at home, often called "the slipper". See Slippering (punishment).
- The ferula, in Jesuit schools, as vividly described in a scene in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
In some instances the offender is required to prepare the implement himself. For instance, sailors were employed in preparing the cat o' nine tails that would be used upon their own back, while school students were sometimes sent out to cut a switch or rod.
In contrast, informal punishments, particularly in domestic settings, tend to lack this ritual nature and are often administered with whatever object comes to hand. It is common, for instance, for belts, wooden spoons, slippers, hairbrushes or coathangers to be used in domestic punishment, while rulers and other classroom equipment have been used in schools.
In parts of England, boys were once beaten under the old tradition of "Beating the Bounds" whereby a boy was paraded around the edge of a city or parish and would be spanked with a switch or cane to mark the boundary. One famous "Beating the Bounds" took place around the boundary of St Giles and the area where Tottenham Court Road now stands in central London. The actual stone that separated the boundary is now underneath the Centre Point office tower.
- Wiktionary definition: Corporal punishment
- Campaigns against corporal punishment
- Capital punishment
- Child discipline
- Domestic violence
- Physical abuse
- School violence
- Washing out mouth with soap
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- UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2001) “General Comment No. 1:" par 11.
- Clabough, Raven (2012-09-27). "Delaware Law Bans Parents from Spanking their Kids". The New American.
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- Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children (GITEACPOC).
- France State Report, GITEACPOC, Report updated August 2012.
- http://www.endcorporalpunishment.org/pages/progress/reports/usa.html Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, Report updated August 2012
- http://www.endcorporalpunishment.org/pages/progress/table_u-z.html#key Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children
- http://www.endcorporalpunishment.org/pages/progress/table_q-t.html Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children
- Proverbs 13:24
- Proverbs 23:13–14
- McCole Wilson, Robert. A Study of Attitudes Towards Corporal Punishment as an Educational Procedure From the Earliest Times to the Present, Nijmegen University, 1999, 2.3 to 2.6.
- McCole Wilson, 2.5.
- Quoted in McCole Wilson, 2.5.
- Plutarch, 'De liberis educandis', as published in Vol. I, Moralia, 'The Education of Children' in the Loeb Classical Library edition, 1927
- Wicksteed, Joseph H. The Challenge of Childhood: An Essay on Nature and Education, Chapman & Hall, London, 1936, pp. 34–35. OCLC 3085780
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- This applies to the 47 members to the Council of Europe, an entirely separate body from the European Union, which has only 27 member states.
- Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children (2012). Retrieved 1 May 2012. "Key Judgements." The ruling concerned the Isle of Man, a UK Crown Dependency.
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- UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2006) "General Comment No. 8:" par. 3. However, Article 19 of the Convention makes no reference to corporal punishment, and the Committee's interpretation on this point has been explicitly rejected by several States Party to the Convention, including Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.
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- UN (2007) United Nations General Assembly, A/RES/62/141. The United States was the only country to vote against. There were no abstentions.
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- Council of Europe (2007). Abolishing corporal punishment of children. Questions and answers. Building a Europe for and with children. Council of Europe Publishing: 32.
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- Walsh, Declan. "Video of girl's flogging as Taliban hand out justice", The Guardian, London, 2 April 2009.
- Campaign against the Arms Trade, Evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, London, January 2005.
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- Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989, "corporal punishment: punishment inflicted on the body; originally including death, mutilation, branding, bodily confinement, irons, the pillory, etc. (as opposed to a fine or punishment in estate or rank). In 19th c. usually confined to flogging or similar infliction of bodily pain."
- "Physical punishment such as caning or flogging" – Concise Oxford Dictionary.
- "... inflicted on the body, esp. by beating." – Oxford American Dictionary of Current English.
- "mostly a euphemism for the enforcement of discipline by applying canes, whips or birches to the buttocks." – Charles Arnold-Baker, The Companion to British History, Routledge, 2001.
- "Physical punishment such as beating or caning" – Chambers 21st Century Dictionary.
- "Punishment of a physical nature, such as caning, flogging, or beating." – Collins English Dictionary.
- "the striking of somebody's body as punishment" – Encarta World English Dictionary, MSN. Archived 2009-10-31.
- Sing Sing or the lash: Should America flog criminals instead of jailing them?, a review of Peter Moskos In Defense of Flogging
- Review, In Defense of Flogging, article by Peter Moskos
- "Corporal Punishment to Children's Hands", A Statement by Medical Authorities as to the Risks, January 2002.
- See for instance Photograph of a public flogging in Iran (2007).
- See Pictures of trestle used for judicial caning in Singapore
- "Mayor may axe child spanking rite", BBC News Online, 21 September 2004.
- Ackroyd, Peter. London: The biography, Chatto & Windus, London, 2000. ISBN 1-85619-716-6
- Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance spanking page
- List of worldwide bans on Corporal Punishment at Center for Effective Discipline
- World Corporal Punishment Research