Corporal punishment in the home
||The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the English-speaking world and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (October 2012)|
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Domestic corporal punishment (also referred to as corporal punishment in the home or parental corporal punishment) is the use of physical force for the purpose of correction or control of behavior from parent/guardian to child. It typically involves the corporal punishment of a child by a parent or guardian in the home—normally the spanking or slapping of a child with the parent's open hand, but occasionally with an implement such as a belt, slipper, cane, hairbrush or paddle. This form of punishment is associated with and used in the authoritarian parenting style.
In many cultures, parents have historically been regarded as having the duty of disciplining their children, and the right to spank them when appropriate. However, attitudes in many countries changed in the 1950s and 60s following the publication by pediatrician Benjamin McLane Spock of Baby and Child Care in 1946, which advised parents to treat children as individuals, whereas the previous conventional wisdom had been that child rearing should focus on building discipline, and that, e.g., babies should not be "spoiled" by picking them up when they cried. The change in attitude was followed by legislation. Since July 1979, domestic corporal punishment of children has been banned in several countries around the world; as of 2014, it is banned in 44 countries. Enforcement of such laws is rare, however, and the practice remains common in many countries.
- 1 Where outlawed
- 2 Where lawful
- 3 Popular opinion
- 4 Research
- 5 Religion
- 6 Opposing agencies
- 7 See also
- 8 References
As of January 2015, corporal punishment of children by parents (or other adults) is banned in 44 countries, with the addition of court rulings against the practice in at least two countries that have yet to be reflected in legislation. The following countries have banned all corporal punishment of children:
|By year||By country|
|2010||Congo, Republic of|
- The Civil and Commercial Code 2014 will come into force in January 2016
- In 2000, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled that corporal punishment violated the right to dignity and bodily integrity.
- The Norwegian Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that a light "careful slap" applied immediately after the "offence" was still allowed. Legislature abolished this in 2010, and the current law is that any violence against children, including careful slaps, is prohibited.
- Parents' right to spank their children was removed in 1966, and it became explicitly prohibited by law in July 1979.
The penalties vary by country. In Sweden, for example, corporal punishment does not necessarily carry a criminal penalty unless it meets the criteria for assault.
By implication and tradition, corporal punishment of minor children is legal where it is not explicitly proscribed.
In Australia, corporal punishment of children in the home is currently legal, provided it is "reasonable". Parents who act unreasonably may be committing an assault. The Australian state of Tasmania is continuing to review the state's laws on the matter, and may seek to ban the use of corporal punishment by parents. The matter is also under review in other Australian states. A 2002 public opinion survey suggested the majority view was in support of retaining parents' right to smack with the open hand but not with an implement, although as of 2010, there are no laws against using an implement in any state or territory. In New South Wales, S61AA of the Crimes Act (1900) allows a parent a defense of lawful correction.
In Canada, parents may spank their children, but there are several restrictions.
In Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law v. Canada (2004) the Supreme Court upheld, in a 6-3 decision, the use of "reasonable" force to discipline children, rejecting claims that moderate spanking violated children's rights. However, it stipulated that the person administering the punishment must be a parent or legal guardian, and not a school teacher or other person (i.e. non-parental relatives such as grandparents, aunts, or uncles, as well as babysitters and other caretakers, are banned from spanking); that the force must be used "by way of correction" (sober, reasoned uses of force that address the actual behaviour of the child and are designed to restrain, control or express some symbolic disapproval of his or her behaviour), that the child must be capable of benefiting from the correction (i.e. not under the age of 2 or over 12, etc.), and that the use of force must be "reasonable under the circumstances", meaning that it results neither in harm nor in the prospect of bodily harm. Punishment involving slaps or blows to the head is harmful, the Court held. Use of any implement other than a bare hand is illegal and hitting a child in anger or in retaliation for something a child did is not considered reasonable and is against the law. In section 43 the Supreme Court of Canada defined "reasonable" as force that would have a "transitory and trifling" impact on the child. For example, spanking or slapping a child so hard that it leaves a mark that lasts for several hours would not be considered "transitory and trifling".
In Ireland, the Children Act, 2001 repealed the Children's Act, 1908, which permitted "reasonable and moderate chastisement" for parents and those in loco parentis. However, such persons retain under common law a limited defence of "reasonable chastisement" if charged with assault of their child. Section 246 of the 2001 Act makes it an offence to assault, ill-treat, neglect, abandon or expose a child in a manner likely to cause unnecessary suffering or injury to the child's health or seriously affect his or her wellbeing, and parents have been successfully prosecuted for "excessive or unreasonable force in disciplining children". The Children’s Rights Alliance, a coalition of charity and advocacy groups, complained to the Council of Europe that the state was in violation of the European Social Charter. As of September 2013[update], Frances Fitzgerald, the Minister for Children and Youth Affairs, is formulating an official response and reviewing the law.
Common-law precedent in South Africa holds that a parent may "inflict moderate and reasonable chastisement" on a child. As of 2013[update] the Department of Social Development is preparing legislation to prohibit corporal punishment in the home; it is already illegal in schools and the penal system.
In the UK, corporal punishment is generally legal but with several limitations. Criminal law has a general prohibition against common assault and battery, but there is a common law defense to such charges for parents striking their children in the context of "reasonable punishment." While never explicitly defined, the Children Act 2004 banned this defense for any instance of punishment beyond common assault/battery where there is any wounding, actual bodily harm, or any act considered "cruelty to persons under sixteen" in violation of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933. The Director of Public Prosecutions has produced a charging standard that indicates there where there are persistent marks on the skin, including cuts, scratches, bruises or anything more than temporary reddening of the skin, the offence charged will usually be assault occasioning actual bodily harm rather than common assault. The total abolition of corporal punishment has been discussed. In a 2004 survey, 71% of the population would support a ban on parents smacking their children. In a 2006 survey, 80% of the population said they believed in smacking, and 73% said that they believed that any ban would cause a sharp deterioration in children's behaviour. Seven out of ten parents said they themselves use corporal punishment. In a 2012 poll conducted by Angus Reid Public Opinion, 63 per cent of Britons voiced opposition to banning parents in the UK from smacking their children.
Despite some opposition to corporal punishment in the United States, the spanking of children is legal in all states. Bans on the corporal punishment of children have been proposed in Massachusetts and California but have failed to secure passage.
Race, gender, and social class appear to be a significant factor in U.S. domestic corporal punishment patterns. Boys are more likely than girls to be spanked at home, and corporal punishment of boys tends to be more severe and more aggressive than that of girls despite some research suggesting that corporal punishment is more counterproductive for boys than girls. Affluent families at the upper end of the socioeconomic scale tend to spank the least often; middle-class parents tend to administer corporal punishment in greater numbers, and lower-class parents tend to do so with still greater frequency. Black families are more likely to practice corporal punishment than white ones.
In the majority of states, physical punishment by a parent remains legal under statutes making exceptions to the state's law on the crimes of assault, criminal battery, domestic violence and/or child abuse. These exceptions usually establish that no crime has been committed when certain actions are applied to a minor by that child's parent or legal caregiver. However, the line between permitted corporal punishment and punishment legally defined as abuse varies by state and is not always clear (laws typically allow "reasonable force" and "non-excessive corporal punishment"). Such language is often vague and is necessarily subjective and fact-driven, so that most cases present a fact issue for trial as to reasonableness or non-excessiveness. Examples of law permitting bodily punishment of children include two different articles of the Minnesota Legislature allow parents and teachers to use corporal punishment as a form of discipline by creating explicit exceptions to the state's child abuse statutes for "reasonable and moderate physical discipline." Application of exceptions for physical punishment raise legal issues as well. In 2008 the Minnesota Supreme Court considered a case involved a man who had struck his 12-year-old son 36 blows with a maple paddle. The trial court held that this constituted abuse, but was reversed on appeal. In affirming the reversal, the Minnesota Supreme Court stated that "We are unwilling to establish a bright-line rule that the infliction of any pain constitutes either physical injury or physical abuse, because to do so would effectively prohibit all corporal punishment of children by their parents" and "it is clear to us that the Legislature did not intend to ban corporal punishment".
Administrative actions for the protection of the child may be initiated by child protection workers who become aware of corporal punishment that may endanger a child. The protection of such administrative actions is typically provided in the form of health department regulations, including Child Protective Services (CPS) rules or rules on Mandated reporting. Mandatory reporting laws require that persons witnessing certain visible injuries along with reports by a child of abuse to make report to the local CPS or equivalent agency charged with the protection of the child. Such agencies operate on definitions of child abuse provided by the state's health department (which are often very different from the exceptions provided in the criminal code). Child protection agencies typically have the duty and authority to investigate cases with their own agents, such as social workers. If the agency determines abuse has occurred, some administrative actions can be taken immediately without the involvement of the police or the courts. These can include warning the parent, referring the parent to counseling, flagging the parent's name in the agency database, or, in egregious cases, even immediate removal of the child or children from the parent's home.
Opinions are divided on whether spanking is helpful or harmful to a child's behavior. Public attitudes towards the acceptability and effectiveness of spanking vary a great deal by nation and region. For example, in the United States and United Kingdom, social acceptance of spanking children maintains a majority position, from approximately 61% to 80%. In Sweden, before the 1979 ban, more than half of the population considered corporal punishment a necessary part of child rearing. By 1996, the rate was 11%, and less than 34% considered it acceptable in a national survey.
On the other hand, many scientific researchers and child welfare organizations oppose it. Some studies have suggested that it does not benefit the child, and can encourage problems like anxiety, alcohol abuse, or dependence and externalizing problems. Various other problems have also been claimed.
Some researchers have been critical of these studies as scientifically unsound and have pointed out methodological flaws in how they were conducted, as well as the conclusions drawn. However, a longitudinal study by Tulane University in 2010 controlled for a wide variety of confounding variables previously noted and still found negative outcomes in such children. According to the study's leader, Catherine Taylor, this suggests that "it's not just that children who are more aggressive are more likely to be spanked."
Psychologist Alice Miller took the view that corporal punishment is a form of abuse, and believed worldwide violence has its roots in the fact that children are beaten all over the world, especially during their first years of life, when their brains become structured.
Social psychologists posit that the sharp divergence in popular opinion vs. scientific findings is rooted in cognitive dissonance. In countries such as the US and UK, spanking is legal but overt child abuse is both illegal and highly stigmatized socially. Because of this, any parent who has ever spanked a child would find it extremely difficult to accept the research findings. If they did acknowledge, even in the smallest way, that spanking was harmful, they would likely feel they are admitting they harmed their own child and thus are a child abuser. Similarly, adults who were spanked as children often face similar cognitive dissonance, because admitting it is harmful might be perceived as accusing their parents of abuse and might also be admitting to having been victimized in a situation where they were helpless to stop it. Such feelings would cause intense emotional discomfort, driving them to dismiss the scientific evidence in favor of weak anecdotal evidence and distorted self-reflection. This is commonly expressed as "I spanked my children and they all turned out fine" or "I was spanked and I turned out fine."
A 1996 literature review by Robert Larzelere suggested that, in some circumstances, corporal punishment of children can increase short-term compliance with parental commands. Examples of such circumstances noted by Larzelere are that no implements should be used, that the child is between ages 2 and 6, that the punishment be carried out in private, and that it should occur less than once per week. However, comparisons in the same study with alternative punishments such as one-minute time-outs did not establish that corporal punishment was more effective. This paper also did not measure long term outcomes.
Diana Baumrind has studied the effects of different parenting styles and has expressed the opinion that mild spanking with the empty, open hand, in the context of an authoritative (not authoritarian) parenting style, is unlikely to have a significant detrimental effect, if one is careful to control for other variables such as socioeconomic status. She observes that previous studies demonstrating a correlation between corporal punishment and bad outcomes failed to control for these variables. She has also cautioned that neither the pro-spanking nor anti-spanking studies is truly scientific, in the sense that physics or chemistry experiments are scientific, as they cannot be modeled or reproduced by other researchers, there are too many disparate factors that might influence the results, and the studies are often heavily biased toward producing a result that affirms the researcher's personal beliefs.
A 1996 study by Straus suggested that children who receive corporal punishment are more likely to be angry as adults, use spanking as a form of discipline, approve of striking a spouse, and experience marital discord. According to Cohen's 1996 study, older children who receive corporal punishment may resort to more physical aggression, substance abuse, crime and violence. A 1997 study by Straus, Sugarman and Giles-Sims found detrimental child outcomes of nonabusive or customary physical punishment by parents using a design that would not also tend to find detrimental outcomes of most alternative discipline responses. Its findings were criticised by Larzelere, who affirmed that the new study did not contradict his earlier study, the conclusions of which were summarized by Baumrind as "a blanket injunction against spanking is not scientifically supportable". Larzelere granted that frequent and severe corporal punishment carried with it an increased risk for detrimental effects, but saw no proof that an occasional swat could harm a child in the long run.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in an official policy statement (reaffirmed in 2004) states that "Corporal punishment is of limited effectiveness and has potentially deleterious side effects." The AAP recommends that parents be "encouraged and assisted in the development of methods other than spanking for managing undesired behavior". In particular, the AAP believes that any corporal punishment methods other than open-hand spanking on the buttocks or extremities "are unacceptable" and "should never be used". The policy statement points out, summarizing several studies, that "The more children are spanked, the more anger they report as adults, the more likely they are to spank their own children, the more likely they are to approve of hitting a spouse, and the more marital conflict they experience as adults." Spanking has been associated with higher rates of physical aggression, more substance abuse, and increased risk of crime and violence when used with older children and adolescents. Research published in the American Academy of Pediatrics journal Pediatrics in 2012 based on data gathered from adults in the United States which excluded subjects who had suffered abuse showed an association between harsh corporal punishment by parents and increased risk of a wide range of mental illness.
The Canadian Pediatrics Society policy on corporal punishment states "The Psychosocial Paediatrics Committee of the Canadian Paediatric Society has carefully reviewed the available research in the controversial area of disciplinary spanking (7-15)... The research that is available supports the position that spanking and other forms of physical punishment are associated with negative child outcomes. The Canadian Paediatric Society, therefore, recommends that physicians strongly discourage disciplinary spanking and all other forms of physical punishment". In the United Kingdom, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Royal College of Psychiatrists have both called for a complete ban on all corporal punishment, stating "We believe it is both wrong and impracticable to seek to define acceptable forms of corporal punishment of children. Such an exercise is unjust. Hitting children is a lesson in bad behaviour" and that "it is never appropriate to hit or beat children". The Australian Psychological Society holds that physical punishment of children should not be used as it has very limited capacity to deter unwanted behavior, does not teach alternative desirable behavior, often promotes further undesirable behaviors such as defiance and attachment to "delinquent" peer groups, and encourages an acceptance of aggression and violence as acceptable responses to conflicts and problems.
Opponents of corporal punishment sometimes argue that spanking constitutes violence and is therefore by definition abusive. Some psychological research is held to indicate that corporal punishment causes the deterioration of trust bonds between parents and children. It is claimed that children subjected to corporal punishment may grow resentful, shy, insecure, or violent. Adults who report having been slapped or spanked by their parents in childhood have been found to experience elevated rates of anxiety disorder, alcohol abuse or dependence and externalizing problems as adults. Some researchers believe that corporal punishment actually works against its objective (normally obedience), since children will not voluntarily obey an adult they do not trust. Elizabeth Gershoff, in a 2002 meta-analytic study that combined 60 years of research on corporal punishment, found that the only positive outcome of corporal punishment was immediate compliance; however, corporal punishment was associated with less long-term compliance. Corporal punishment was linked with nine other negative outcomes, including increased rates of aggression, delinquency, mental health problems, problems in relationships with their parents, and likelihood of being physically abused. Psychologist Melanie Barwick also states that depression in adolescence is also another negative outcome of corporal punishment in adolescence because of the harsh punishments.
Opponents claim that much child abuse begins with spanking: a parent accustomed to using corporal punishment may, on this view, find it all too easy, when frustrated, to step over the line into physical abuse. One study found that 40% of 111 mothers were worried that they could possibly hurt their children. It is argued that frustrated parents turn to spanking when attempting to discipline their child, and then get carried away (given the arguable continuum between spanking and hitting). This "continuum" argument also raises the question of whether a spank can be "too hard" and how (if at all) this can be defined in practical terms. This in turn leads to the question whether parents who spank their children "too hard" are crossing the line and beginning to abuse them. A 2010 analysis notes: "Interviews with physically abusive parents about the abusive events for which they were referred to child-protective services expose a startling and compelling theme: Nearly two-thirds of the abusive incidents began as acts of corporal punishment meant to correct a child's behavior."
Opponents also argue that a problem with the use of corporal punishment is that, if punishments are to maintain their efficacy, the amount of force required may have to be increased over successive punishments. This has been claimed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which has asserted: "The only way to maintain the initial effect of spanking is to systematically increase the intensity with which it is delivered, which can quickly escalate into abuse". Additionally, the Academy noted that: "Parents who spank their children are more likely to use other unacceptable forms of corporal punishment."
The American Academy of Pediatrics also believes that corporal punishment polarizes the parent-child relationship, reducing the amount of spontaneous cooperation on the part of the child. The AAP policy statement says "...reliance on spanking as a discipline approach makes other discipline strategies less effective to use".
A meta-analysis of 88 research studies testifies to many long- and short-term dangers of corporal punishment, and concludes that corporal punishment of children is "associated with all child constructs, including higher levels of immediate compliance and aggression and lower levels of moral internalization and mental health." A 2003 review of available research into parental punishment concluded that "strong evidence exists that the use of physical punishment has a number of inherent risks regarding the physical and mental health and well-being of children".
In a 2006 study on violence against children, the Independent Expert for the Secretary-General to the General Assembly writes: "Children testify to the hurt – not only physical, but 'the hurt inside'." A 2006 retrospective report study in New Zealand showed that physical punishment of children was quite common in the 1970s and 80s, with 80% of the sample reporting some kind of corporal punishment from parents at some time during childhood. Among this sample, 29% reported being hit with an empty hand, 45% with an object, and 6% were subjected to serious physical abuse. The study noted that abusive physical punishment tended to be given by fathers and often involved striking the child's head or torso instead of the buttocks or limbs.
A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine found that mothers who reported spanking their children were more likely (6% vs 2%) to also report using forms of punishment considered abusive to the researchers "such as beating, burning, kicking, hitting with an object somewhere other than the buttocks, or shaking a child less than 2 years old" than mothers who did not report spanking, and increases in the frequency of spanking were statistically correlated with increased odds of abuse.
There is also MRI evidence that children treated with harsh corporal punishment have reduced gray matter when aged 18–25 in their prefrontal lobe. Such research also found that these reductions in gray matter linked to reduced performance IQ on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale.
Some who carry out corporal punishment claim to do so for ideological or religious reasons. Douglas Wilson appeals to the Bible ("He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him", Proverbs 13:24) to argue that corporal punishment is a duty for parents, though "biblical training consists of far more than spanking." Wilson also points out that Proverbs 3:12 ("The LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in") is "encouragingly quoted" in the New Testament book of Hebrews.
Although some Christians use physical discipline for religious reasons, the European Commission of Human Rights rejected an application in 1982 by Swedish parents who alleged that Sweden’s 1979 ban on parental physical punishment breached their right to respect for family life and religious freedom. The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights argues that
Vocal opposition to banning all corporal punishment comes in some countries from minority religious groups, quoting texts which, they believe, give them a right or even a duty to discipline their children with violence. While freedom of religious belief should be respected, such beliefs cannot justify practices which breach the rights of others, including children’s rights to respect for their physical integrity and human dignity.
Several agencies responsible for child health have issued policies against corporal punishment such as:
UNESCO recommends that corporal punishment be prohibited in schools, homes and institutions as a form of discipline, and alleges that it is a violation of human rights as well as counterproductive, ineffective, dangerous and harmful to children.
International human rights organizations such as the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have stated that physical punishment of any kind is a violation of children's human rights and should be banned therefore.
The Australian Psychological Society holds that corporal punishment of children is an ineffective method of deterring unwanted behavior, promotes undesirable behaviors and fails to demonstrate an alternative desirable behavior.
The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is against smacking and opposes the striking of children in all circumstances. The Royal College of Psychiatrists also takes the position that corporal punishment is unacceptable in all circumstances.
The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that corporal punishment possesses some negative side effects and only limited benefits, and recommends the use of other forms of discipline to manage undesirable behavior. A 1996 AAP Consensus Conference concluded that spanking should never be used under 2 years of age, may be effective for preschoolers when combined with verbal correction, and should not be used in older children and adolescents. The National Association of Social Workers "opposes the use of physical punishment in homes, schools, and all other institutions where children are cared for and educated."
- School corporal punishment
- Child discipline
- Corporal punishment
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- Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children
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