School corporal punishment

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1888 cartoon depicting J.S. Kerr, an Australian proponent of punishment by caning

School corporal punishment refers to causing deliberate pain or discomfort in response to undesired behaviour by students in schools. It often involves striking the student either across the buttocks[1] or on the hands,[2] with an implement such as a rattan cane, wooden paddle, slipper, leather strap or wooden yardstick. Less commonly, it could also include spanking or smacking the student with the open hand, especially at the elementary school level.

In the English-speaking world, the use by schools of corporal punishment has historically been justified by the common-law doctrine in loco parentis, whereby teachers are considered authority figures granted the same rights as parents to punish children in their care.

Advocates of school corporal punishment argue that it provides an immediate response to indiscipline and that the student is quickly back in the classroom learning, as opposed to suspension from school. Opponents argue that physical punishment is ineffective in the long term, interferes with learning, produces numerous harmful side effects, and is a form of violence that breaches the rights of children.

School corporal punishment has been banned in virtually all of Europe, most of South America, more than half of U.S. states, and in Canada, South Africa and New Zealand. The first country in the world to prohibit it was Poland in 1783.[3]

Geographical scope[edit]

Medieval schoolboy birched on the bare buttocks.

Corporal punishment used to be prevalent in schools in many parts of the world, but in recent decades it has been outlawed in most of Europe and in Canada, Korea, South Africa, New Zealand and several other countries (see list of countries, below). It remains commonplace in a number of countries in Africa, south-east Asia and the Middle East (see list of countries, below). In the United States, the Supreme Court ruling in Ingraham v. Wright (1977) held that school corporal punishment does not violate the "Cruel and Unusual Punishment" clause of the federal Constitution, because that clause applies only to the prison system. The Supreme Court of the United States has not yet reviewed the practice under other federal law or other Constitutional clauses. Paddling continues to be used in a number of Southern states.

In some Asian and African countries where it has been theoretically outlawed, it is still used in practice.

Much of the traditional culture that surrounds corporal punishment in school, at any rate in the English-speaking world, derives largely from British practice in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly as regards the caning of teenage boys.[4] There is a vast amount of literature on this, in both popular and serious culture.[5][6] Britain itself outlawed the practice in 1987 for state schools[7][8][9] and more recently for all schools.[10][11]

1839 caricature by George Cruikshank of a school flogging

Many schools in Singapore and Malaysia use caning (for boys) as a routine official punishment for misconduct, as also some African countries. In some Middle Eastern countries whipping is used. (See list of countries, below.)

In most of continental Europe, school corporal punishment has been banned for several decades or longer, depending on the country (See list of countries, below).

From the 1917 Russian revolution onwards, corporal punishment was outlawed in the Soviet Union, because it was deemed contrary to Soviet ideology.[12] Communists in other countries such as Britain took the lead in campaigning against school corporal punishment, which they viewed as a symptom of the decadence of capitalist education systems.[13] In the 1960s, Soviet visitors to western schools expressed shock at the caning of boys there.[14] Other communist regimes followed suit: for instance, corporal punishment was "unknown" by students in North Korea in 2007.[15] In mainland China, corporal punishment in schools was outlawed in 1986,[16] although the practice remains common, especially in rural areas.[17]

Member states of the Convention on the rights of the child are obliged to "take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse […] while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child." (Article 19).[clarification needed]

Statements by educational associations[edit]

The United States' National Association of Secondary School Principals (NAASP) opposes the use of corporal punishment in schools. They define corporal punishment as the deliberate infliction of pain on students in response to students' unacceptable behaviour and/or language. In articulating their opposition, they cite the disproportionate use of corporal punishment on Black students in the US; potential adverse effects on students' self-image and school achivement; correlation between school corporal punishment and increased truancy, drop-out rates, violence, and vandalism by youth; the potential for misuse and/or injury to students; and increased legal liability for schools.[18]

The NASSP notes that the use of corporal punishment in schools is inconsistent with laws regarding child abuse as well as policies toward "racial, economic, and gender equity", asserting that "Fear of pain or embarrassment has no place" in the process of inspiring students to learn. The NASSP recommends a range of alternatives to corporal punishment, including "appropriate instruction", "behavioral contracts", "positive reinforcement", and "individual and group counseling" where necessary.[18]

Statements by medical and psychological associations[edit]

Medical, pediatric or psychological societies opposing school corporal punishment include: the American Medical Association,[19] the American Academy of Pediatrics,[20][21][22] the Society for Adolescent Medicine,[23][24] the American Psychological Association,[25] the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health,[26][27] the Royal College of Psychiatrists,[28] the Canadian Paediatric Society[29] and the Australian Psychological Society.[30]

Effects on students[edit]

In the United States alone, almost a quarter million children are subjected to corporal punishment in schools each year. In the absence of empirical data on its effectiveness, school personnel and policymakers often rely on personal anecdotes to argue that school corporal punishment improves students' behavior and achievement. Despite its prevalence, there has been virtually no peer-reviewed research on the effects of corporal punishment in schools.[31] One 2002 comparison study of U.S. states in which school corporal punishment, or "paddling", was permitted or prohibited found that instead of predicting less delinquency and better student achievement, paddling was associated with higher dropout rates, poorer academic performance, and higher crime rates.[32] Other studies have linked corporal punishment to adverse physical, psychological and educational outcomes including, "increased aggressive and destructive behaviour, increased disruptive classroom behaviour, vandalism, poor school achievement, poor attention span, increased drop-out rate, school avoidance and school phobia, low self-esteem, anxiety, somatic complaints, depression, suicide and retaliation against teacher."[33]

Statements by human-rights bodies[edit]

International human rights organizations including 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.[34][35][36]

By country[edit]

Legality of corporal punishment of minors in Europe
  Corporal punishment banned in both schools and the home
  Corporal punishment banned in schools only
  Corporal punishment allowed in schools and in the home


Banned in 1813, corporal punishment was re-legalised in 1817 and punishments by physical pain lasted until the 1980s. The instruments were rebenques, slappings in the face and others.[37][38] All corporal punishment has now been prohibited; the ban is set to come into effect in 2016.[39]


In Australia, laws on corporal punishment in schools are determined at individual state or territory level.[40][41] While still legal in private schools in some states, in practice, very few schools impose corporal punishment.[42]

State Government schools Non-government schools
Victoria Banned in 1983.[43] Banned in 2006.
Queensland[44] Banned in 1994.[45] Not banned.[46]
New South Wales[47] First banned in 1987.[48][49][43] Ban repealed in 1989.[50]
Banned again in 1995.[51][52]
Banned in 1997.[51]
Tasmania[53] Banned in 1999.[54][55] Banned in 1999.[54]
Australian Capital Territory[56] Banned in 1988.[57][58] Banned in 1997.
Northern Territory[59] Not banned, but contrary to Education Department policy.[60] Banned in 2009.
South Australia Banned in 1991. Not banned.
Western Australia Banned in 1999.[61]
Effectively abolished by Education Department policy in 1987.[62]
Banned in 2015.[63][64]


School corporal punishment was banned in 1974.[65]


Corporal punishment in all settings, including schools, was prohibited in Bolivia in 2014. According to the Children and Adolescents Code, "The child and adolescent has the right to good treatment, comprising a non-violent upbringing and education... Any physical, violent and humiliating punishment is prohibited".[66]


Corporal punishment in all settings, including schools, was prohibited in Brazil in 2014. According to an amendment to the Code on Children and Adolescents 1990, "Children and Adolescents are entitled to be educated and cared for without the use of physical punishment or cruel or degrading treatment as forms of correction, discipline, education or any other pretext".[67]

Burma (Myanmar)[edit]

Caning is commonly used by teachers as a punishment in schools.[68] The cane is applied on the students' buttocks, calves or palms of the hands in front of the class. Tramline cane marks could be left. Sit-ups with ears pulled and arms crossed, kneeling, and standing on the bench in the classroom are other forms of corporal punishments used in schools. Common reasons for punishment include talking in class, not finishing homework, mistakes made with classwork, fighting and truancy.[69][70]


In Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law v. Canada (2004) the Supreme Court outlawed school corporal punishment.[71] In public schools, the usual implement was a rubber/canvas strap applied to the hands,[72] while private schools often used a paddle or cane administered to the student's posterior.[73][74] In many parts of Canada, 'the strap' had not been used in public schools since the 1970s or even earlier: thus, it has been claimed that it had not been used in Quebec since the 1960s,[75] and in Toronto it was banned in 1971.[2] However, some schools in Alberta had been using the strap up until the ban in 2004.[76]

School Corporal Punishment Bans in Canadian Provinces[edit]

Some Canadian provinces banned corporal punishment in public schools prior to the national ban in 2004. They are, in chronological order by year of provincial ban:[citation needed]

(People's Republic of) China[edit]

Corporal punishment in China was officially banned after the communist revolution in 1949. The Compulsory Education Law of 1986 states: "It shall be forbidden to inflict physical punishment on students".[16] In practice, beatings by schoolteachers are common, especially in rural areas.[17][77]

Costa Rica[edit]

All corporal punishment, both in school and in the home, has been banned since 2008.

Czech Republic[edit]

Corporal punishment is outlawed under Article 31 of the Education Act.[78]


A 1998 study found that random physical punishment (not proper formal corporal punishment) was being used extensively by teachers in Egypt to punish behavior they regarded as unacceptable. Around 80% of the boys and 60% of the girls were punished by teachers, using their hands, sticks, straps, shoes, punches and kicks as most common methods of administration. The most common reported injuries were bumps and contusions.[79]


The systematic use of corporal punishment has been absent from French schools since the 19th century.[80] There is no explicit legal ban on it,[81] but in 2008 a teacher was fined €500 for what some people describe as slapping a student.[82][83][84]


School corporal punishment, historically widespread, was outlawed in different states via their administrative law at different times. It was not completely abolished everywhere until 1983.[85] Since 1993, use of corporal punishment by a teacher has been a criminal offence. In that year a sentence by the Federal Court of Justice of Germany (Bundesgerichtshof, case number NStZ 1993,591) was published which overruled the previous powers enshrined in unofficial customary law (Gewohnheitsrecht) and upheld by some regional appeal courts (Oberlandesgericht, Superior State Court) even in the 1970s. They assumed a right of chastisement was a defense of justification against the accusation of "causing bodily harm" per Paragraph (=Section) 223 Strafgesetzbuch (Federal Penal Code).


Corporal punishment in Greek primary schools was banned in 1998, and in secondary schools in 2005.[86]


Corporal punishment is still used in most of India. The Delhi High Court banned its use in Delhi schools in 2000. 17 out of 29 states claim to apply the ban, though enforcement is lax.[87] A number of social and cultural groups, including Shankaracharya, are campaigning against corporal punishment in India. In many states, corporal punishment is still practised within most schools. Society for Prevention of Injuries & Corporal Punishment (SPIC) is actively running awareness campaigns to educate the teachers and students through conferences and scientific publications.[88]


In schools in Ireland, corporal punishment was banned by regulation in 1982, and its use became a criminal offence in 1996. [89]


Banned in 1928.[90]


Although legally banned in 1947, corporal punishment is still commonly found in schools in the 2010s and particularly widespread in school sports clubs. In late 1987, about 60% of junior high school teachers felt it was necessary, with 7% believing it was necessary in all conditions, 59% believing it should be applied sometimes and 32% disapproving of it in all circumstances; while at elementary (primary) schools, 2% supported it unconditionally, 47% felt it was necessary and 49% disapproved.[91] As recent as December 2012, a high school student committed suicide after having been constantly beaten by his basketball coach.[92] An education ministry survey found that more than 10,000 students received corporal punishment from more than 5,000 teachers across Japan in 2012 fiscal year alone.[93]


Corporal punishment in schools was banned in 1845 and became a criminal offence in 1974 (Aggravated Assault on Minors under Authority) [94][95]


A picture showing the marks left on a Malaysian female student's palm after a caning

Caning is a common form of discipline in many Malaysian schools. Legally it should be applied only to male students, but the idea of making the caning of girls lawful has recently been debated. This would be applied to the palm of the hand, whereas boys are typically caned across the seat of the trousers.[96] By law in Malaysia, caning must not be done on the bare buttocks i.e. the pupil must not be instructed to drop his trousers before he is caned.


Banned in 1920.[97]

New Zealand[edit]

Corporal punishment in New Zealand schools was abolished in 1987, but wasn't abolished legislatively until 23 July 1990, when Section 139A of the Education Act 1989 was inserted by the Education Amendment Act 1990. Section 139A prohibits anyone employed by a school or ECE provider, or anyone supervising or controlling students on the school's behalf, from using force by way of correction or punishment towards any student at or in relation to the school or the student under their supervision or control.[98] Teachers who administer corporal punishment can be found guilty of physical assault, resulting in termination and cancellation of teacher registration, and possibly criminal charges, with a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment.[99]

As enacted, the law had a loophole: parents, provided they were not school staff, could still discipline their children on school grounds. In early 2007, a southern Auckland Christian school was found to be using this loophole to discipline students by corporal punishment, by making the student's parents administer the punishment.[100] This loophole was closed in May 2007 by the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007, which enacted a blanket ban on parents administering corporal punishment to their children.


Strongly restricted in 1889. Completely banned in 1936.[citation needed]


School corporal punishment in Pakistan is not very common in modern educational institutions although it is still used in schools across the rural parts of the country as a means of enforcing student discipline. The method has been criticised by some children's rights activists who claim that many cases of corporal punishment in schools have resulted in physical and mental abuse of schoolchildren. According to one report, corporal punishment is a key reason for school dropouts and subsequently, street children, in Pakistan; as many as 35,000 high school pupils in Pakistan are said to drop out of the education system each year because they have been punished or abused in school.[101]


Corporal punishment is prohibited in private and public schools.[102]


In 1783, Poland became the first country in the world to prohibit corporal punishment.[3] 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. Today, the ban of corporal punishment in all forms is vested in Constitution of Poland[103][104][105]


Banned in 1917.[12] Article 336 of the Labor Code of the Russian Federation states that a teacher who has used corporal punishment to a pupil (even once), shall be dismissed.


Corporal punishment is legal in Singapore schools (for male students only), and fully encouraged by the government in order to maintain strict discipline.[106] Only a light rattan cane may be used.[107] This must be administered in a formal ceremony by the school management after due deliberation, not by classroom teachers. Most secondary schools (whether independent, autonomous or government-controlled), and also some primary schools, use caning to deal with misconduct by boys.[108] At the secondary level, the rattan strokes are nearly always delivered to the student's clothed buttocks. The Ministry of Education has stipulated a maximum of six strokes per occasion. In some cases the punishment is carried out in front of the rest of the school instead of in private.[109]

South Africa[edit]

The use of corporal punishment in schools was prohibited by the South African Schools Act, 1996. According to section 10 of the act:

(1) No person may administer corporal punishment at a school to a learner.

(2) Any person who contravenes subsection (1) is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a sentence which could be imposed for assault.[110]

In the case of Christian Education South Africa v Minister of Education the Constitutional Court rejected a claim that the constitutional right to religious freedom entitles private Christian schools to impose corporal punishment.

South Korea[edit]

Since 2010, all forms of caning are completely banned in the liberal regions of Seoul Metropolitan City, Gyeonggi Province, Gangwon Province, Gwangju Metropolitan City, North Jeolla Province and South Jeolla Province. Other conservative regions are governed by a national law enacted in 2011 which states that while caning is generally forbidden, it can be used indirectly to maintain school discipline.[111]


Banned in 1985.[112]


Corporal punishment at school has been prohibited in folkskolestadgan (the elementary school ordinance) since 1 January 1958. Its use by ordinary teachers in grammar schools had been outlawed in 1928.[113]


In 2006 Taiwan made corporal punishment in the school system illegal,[114] but it is still known to be practised (see Corporal punishment in Taiwan).


Corporal punishment in schools is illegal under the Ministry of Education Regulation on Student Punishment (2005) and the National Committee on Child Protection Regulation on Working Procedures of Child Protection Officers Involved in Promoting Behaviour of Students (2005), pursuant to article 65 of the Child Protection Act.[115]


In Ukraine, "physical or mental violence" against children is forbidden by the Constitution (Art.52.2) and the Law on Education (Art.51.1, since 1991) which states that students and other learners have the right “to the protection from any form of exploitation, physical and psychological violence, actions of pedagogical and other employees who violate the rights or humiliate their honour and dignity”.[116] Standard instructions for teachers provided by the Ministry of Science and Education state that a teacher who has used corporal punishment to a pupil (even once), shall be dismissed.

United Arab Emirates[edit]

A federal law was implemented in 1998 which banned school corporal punishment. The law applied to all schools, both public and private.[117][118] Any teacher who engages in the practice would not only lose their job and teaching license, but will also face criminal prosecution for engaging in violence against minors and will also face child abuse charges.[119]

United Kingdom[edit]

In state-run schools, and also in private schools where at least part of the funding came from government, corporal punishment was outlawed by Parliament with effect from 1987. In other private schools, it was banned in 1999 (England and Wales), 2000 (Scotland) and 2003 (Northern Ireland).[4] In 1993, the European Court of Human Rights held in Costello-Roberts v. UK that giving a seven-year-old boy three 'whacks' with a gym shoe over his trousers was not a forbidden degrading treatment.[120]

The implement used in many state and private schools in England and Wales was a flexible rattan cane, applied either to the student's hands or (especially in the case of teenage boys) to the seat of the trousers. Slippering was widely used as a less formal alternative. In a few English cities, a strap was used instead of the cane.[121]

In Scotland a leather strap, the tawse, administered to the palms of the hands, was universal in state schools,[122] but some private schools used the cane.[123]

In 2005 there was an unsuccessful challenge to prohibition of corporal punishment in the Education Act 1996 s.548 by headmasters of private Christian schools. They claimed that it was a breach of their freedom of religion under Article 9 ECHR (see R v Secretary of State for Education and Employment, ex p Williamson).

A 2008 poll of 6,162 UK teachers by the Times Educational Supplement found that one in five teachers would still back the use of caning in extreme cases.[124][125]

United States[edit]

School corporal punishment in the United States was held constitutional in the 1977 Supreme Court case Ingraham v. Wright, where the Court held that the Cruel and Unusual Punishments Clause of the Eighth Amendment does not apply to disciplinary corporal punishment in public schools.[126]

Individual US states have the power to ban corporal punishment in their schools. Currently, it is banned in public schools in 31 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.[127] In two of these states, New Jersey[128] and Iowa,[129] it is illegal in private schools as well. The 19 states that have not banned it are in the South and, to a lesser extent, the Mid-West. It is still used to a significant (though declining)[130] degree in some public schools in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.[127]

In 1867 New Jersey became the first U.S. state to abolish corporal punishment in schools. The second was Massachusetts 104 years later in 1971. The most recent state to outlaw school corporal punishment was New Mexico in 2011.

Public-opinion research has found that most Americans are not in favor of school corporal punishment; in polls taken in 2002 and 2005, American adults were respectively 72% and 77% opposed to the use of corporal punishment by teachers.[31]

Most urban public school systems, even in states where it is permitted, have abolished corporal punishment. Statistics collected by the federal government show that the use of the paddle has been declining steadily, in all states where it is used, over at least the past 20 years. The anti-spanking campaign Center for Effective Discipline, extrapolating from federal statistics, estimates that the number of students spanked or paddled in 2006 in U.S. public schools was about 223,000.[130]

Statistics show that black and Hispanic students are more likely to be paddled than white students,[130][131] possibly because minority-race parents are more inclined to approve of it.[132][133] However, a study in Kentucky found that minority students were disproportionately targeted by discipline policies generally, not only corporal punishment.[134]

One study has alleged that students with disabilities are "subjected to corporal punishment at disproportionately high rates, approximately twice the rate of the general student population in some States".[135]

A bill to end the use of corporal punishment in schools was introduced into the United States House of Representatives in June 2010 during the 111th Congress.[136][137] The bill, H.R. 5628,[138] was referred to the United States House Committee on Education and Labor where it was not brought up for a vote. As of June 2011 a similar bill has not been re-introduced in the 112th Congress. A previous bill "to deny funds to educational programs that allow corporal punishment"[139] was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives in 1991 by Representative Major R. Owens. That bill, H.R. 1522, did not become law.

U.S. states banning school corporal punishment[edit]

Thirty-one U.S. states and the District of Columbia have banned corporal punishment from use in state schools. Two states, New Jersey and Iowa, additionally ban the use of corporal punishment in private schools. The states, along with the year they banned, are:


Corporal punishment in all settings, including schools, was prohibited in Venezuela in 2007. According to the Law for the Protection of Children and Adolescents, "All children and young people have a right to be treated well. This right includes a non-violent education and upbringing... Consequently, all forms of physical and humiliating punishment are prohibited".[143]

See also[edit]


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