This opinion piece was written by Anna Henry, Director of the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children. For more like this, see our violence prevention newsfeed.
When most people think of corporal punishment, they often think of a schoolteacher with a cane. But as a term, corporal punishment encompasses all forms of violent punishment against children, whether in school or at home — and the problem is both more widespread and significantly more damaging than many realise.
Corporal punishment has been related to a range of social ills, including perpetrating violence in later life, experiencing violence from an intimate partner, and even physically or verbally coercing another person into sex.
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In fact, research suggests that the more a society uses violence for socially approved purposes like discipline, the more individuals in that society are likely to use violence for purposes which are not socially approved. In other words, the approval and prevalence of corporal punishment in societies is linked to the use or endorsement of other forms of violence, including fighting, torture, the death penalty, war and murder.
The approval and prevalence of corporal punishment in societies is linked to the use or endorsement of other forms of violence
In short, corporal punishment is not a minor, mundane or everyday form of violence — it underpins the way societies respond to and use violence in countless other contexts. But we already know the solution, and have the evidence to back it up: complete and effective prohibition.
Sweden first banned corporal punishment in all settings in 1979 and research has shown a drastic reduction in the number of children experiencing violent discipline. A 2000 study which examined the impact of the ban found that there had also been a decrease in the number of 15- to 17-year-olds involved in theft, narcotics crimes, assaults against young children and rape. It also found a decrease in suicide and use of alcohol and drugs by young people.
Studies in Finland have found that there has been a clear reduction in all forms of corporal punishment and other parental violence against children since prohibition in 1983. Another paper also found that the decline in physical punishment was associated with a similar decline in the number of children who were murdered.
In Germany, which achieved full prohibition in 2000, research has shown significant decreases in violent punishment, which has been linked to decreases in violence by young people in school and elsewhere and to reductions in the proportion of women experiencing physical injury due to domestic violence.
These complex societal changes aren’t reducible to changes in the law, but legislative change has, in each of these countries, been a vital part of a cultural sea-change towards corporal punishment.
Movements to ban the practice are gathering speed in all four corners of the globe
Movements to ban the practice are gathering speed in all four corners of the globe, but only 54 countries prohibit corporal punishment in all settings. Evidence alone can’t change laws — but committed policymakers and legislators can.
Today’s SDGs make bold promises on gender equality, child protection and and the elimination of violence from our societies. To achieve that, we must start with children and ensure that childhood is a time without violence. — Anna Henry
(Picture credit: Unsplash)