A UNESCO PUBLICATION
This publication clarifies the human rights imperative and logical dictates of child development
knowledge for eliminating corporal punishment of children. It provides guidance for selecting
and applying constructive disciplinary practices that respect the human dignity of children. The
publication was commissioned by UNESCO’s Education Sector. .
The publication includes three major sections: 1 The Human Rights Imperative for Ending All
Corporal Punishment of Children; 2 Corporal Punishment: Prevalence, Predictors and
Implications for Child Behavior and Development; and 3 The Way Forward to Constructive
1 The human rights imperative for ending all corporal punishment
The section outlines in detail the human rights standards that require prohibition of all corporal
punishment. Hitting people violates their fundamental rights to respect for their physical integrity
and human dignity, as set forth in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the
International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Children are people too and equal holders of
This is confirmed in the United Nations Convention on the Right of the Child, which is also the
first international instrument to require protection of children from “all forms of physical or
mental violence” (article 19). The Committee on the Rights of the Child, Treaty Body for the
Convention, has consistently interpreted it as requiring prohibition of all corporal punishment,
including in the family. It has emphasized this in its concluding observations on reports from
more than 130 states, in the conclusions of two days of General Discussion on violence against
children (in 2000 and 2001) and in its first General Comment on “The Aims of Education”.
Condemnation of corporal punishment on the basis of the child’s human rights, quoting the
Convention and the Committee on the Rights of the Child, has been expressed by other human
rights bodies and by judgments of high-level courts in all continents.
Abolition of corporal punishment in schools and other institutions and in penal systems for young
offenders is accelerating in all continents and is complete in Europe (although enforcement may
not be consistent). The banning of corporal punishment by parents and all caregivers, begun in
Sweden 50 years ago, has spread to at least 12 countries.
2 Corporal Punishment: prevalence, predictors and implications for child behaviour and
Corporal Punishment is counterproductive, relatively ineffective, dangerous and harmful
according to research findings.
Corporal punishment has not been found to be an effective means of achieving positive long-term
developmental outcomes, such as moral internalization or social problem-solving. Corporal
punishment threatens the physical well being of the child. Physical harm is a repeated risk,
particularly for young children, and the more often it is used the more likely it is to progress to
severe forms of violence.
Corporal punishment has been found to be consistently related to poor mental health; including
depression, unhappiness, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness in children and youth. Corporal
punishment is a risk factor for relationship problems, including impairment of parent-child
relationships, increased levels of aggression and anti-social behaviour in children, raised
thresholds for defining an act as violent, and perpetration of violence as an adult, including abuse
of one’s family members.
Factors most strongly associated with use of corporal punishment by a caregiver are approval of
corporal punishment, experience of physical punishment as a child, anger reactions to conflict
with the child; attributions of the child’s behaviour to willful defiance, and marital and parenting
3 The way forward to constructive discipline
Established human rights standards require abolition of all corporal punishment, and the evolving
understanding of child development and social environments add strong arguments against
corporal punishment and other destructive punitive practices, including psychological
maltreatment. The Convention on the Rights of the Child provides a vision and accompanying set
of standards for the goals of child behaviour and development that have achieved international
and cross-cultural acceptance and commitment.
The following principles, derived by combining principles in the Convention on the Rights of the
Child with understanding of child development, are offered to guide the selection and
development of constructive discipline practices:
- Respect the child’s dignity
- Develop pro-social behavior, self-discipline, and character
- Maximize the child’s active participation
- Respect the child’s developmental needs and quality of life
- Respect the child’s motivational characteristics and life views
- Assure fairness and transformative justice
- Promote solidarity
In this section, an international panel of experts presents descriptions some of the constructive
discipline orientations and practices known to be applied in Asia, Africa, Europe, the Middle
East, and South America. They include: involving learners and their parents in decisions about
codes of conduct and associated practices (Shirley Mabusela); providing guidance in the selection
of positive models in peers and classmates (Hassan Qasem Khan); family meetings and intergenerational
dialogue (Elizabeth Protacio-de Castro); rendering services to the community to
rectify rule infractions (Benedito Rodrigues dos Santos); and exploring ethical-moral meanings
and implications in current events (Nora Katona). Additionally, two experts on Indigenous
peoples provide descriptions of constructive child rearing and discipline orientations and related
practices for peoples they know well, including the provision to young children of a mentor
among the older youth who gently guides them into the practices and norms of good behaviour
appropriate for their age and status (Anastasia Pinto) and reinforcement of connectedness to each
other and the community through guided observation and the words and advice of elders (William
Further information on a wide variety of constructive discipline practices is provided by examples
from and reference to Internet sources (compiled by the Global Initiative to End All Corporal
Punishment of Children: www.endcorporalpunishment.org).
Corporal punishment of children breaches children’s fundamental human rights. It has been found
to be a threat to the healthy development and welfare of children and their societies, and an
ineffective form of discipline or control. Constructive, non-violent, child discipline is needed. It
should be formulated and applied in a manner that respects the human dignity and rights of the
child and understanding of child development. Positive, non-violent ways of discipline and child
rearing are being promoted and applied in all regions and cultures. Supportive information,
resources and guidance for achieving constructive discipline and child rearing are available.
They should be promoted and made readily accessible to families, schools and communities
throughout the world.
Authors and Editor
Chapter 1: Peter Newell, Joint Coordinator, Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of
Chapter 2: Professor Joan Durrant, Head of Family Social Sciences, University of Manitoba, Canada
Chapter 3: F. Clark Power, Professor, Program of Liberal Studies, University of Notre Dame, USA and
Stuart N. Hart.
Editor: Stuart N. Hart, Deputy Director, International Institute for Child Rights and Development, Centre
for Global Studies, University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
A panel of international experts provided review and advice for all sections of the publication and
contributed material on constructive disciplinary practices:
Two experts provided descriptions of constructive discipline practices among Indigenous peoples in India
and British Columbia.
- Shirley Mabusela, Trustee of the Nelson Mandela Children’s Fund; on the Boards of the Centre
for Human Rights of the University of Pretoria and the Human Rights Institute; consultant for a
ten year review of government performance for the Office on the Rights of the Child in the
Presidency of South Africa; served as Chief Commissioner of the South African Human Rights
Commission, with Primary Responsibility for Children’s Rights; instrumental in establishing a
focal point for children at the South Africa Human Rights commission; served as expert for study
on HIV/AIDS commissioned by the Nelson Mandela Foundation and the Nelson Mandela
- Elizabeth Protacio-de Castro, Associate Professor, Department of Psychology and Head of
Program on Psychosocial Trauma and Human Rights, Center for Integrative Development Studies
University of the Philippines, Former President and presently Member of the Board, National
Association for Filipino Psychology, Founder and First Executive Director of the Children's
Rehabilitation Center, Member of the NGO Advisory Panel for the UN Study of Violence Against
- Hassan Qasem Khan, Yemen Psychological Association, member of Yemen’s National NGO to
Child Rights Care, Chief of the Department of Behavioral Sciences at Aden University, Regional
Vice-President of the World Federation for Mental Health, Member of the NGO Advisory Panel
for the UN Study of Violence Against Children;
- Benedito Rodrigues dos Santos; University Professor of Anthropology and coordinator for the
Research Center on Childhood, Adolescence, and Family at the Catholic University of Goiás
State, Brazil; Consultant to UNICEF regarding child labor and street children in Brazil; an activist
for children’s rights, co-founder and member of several Brazilian organizations, including the
Brazilian National Movement of Street Boys and Girls (MNMMR) and the National NGO forum
in Defense of Children’s Rights (DCA); and
- Nora Katona, Research Fellow of the Psychology Institute and the International Relations Officer
and Coordinator of the Socrates and Erasmus Exchanges, Eotvos Lorand University, Hungary;
Past-President of the Hungarian School Psychology Association; President-Elect of the
International School Psychology Association.
- Anastasia Pinto, director of the Centre for Organization Research and Education (CORE)/World
Coalition for Indigenous Children and Youth in India, an Indigenous Peoples’ rights organization
working on the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its optional protocols and the
participation of indigenous children and youth.
- William A. White/Xalemuxw/Kasalid, the Indigenous Liaison Officer of the University of
Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia.
For best reproduction of this document, use PDF version.
ELIMINATING CORPORAL PUNISHMENT - The Way Forward to Constructive Child Discipline
A review by Norm Lee, June 1, 2005
Anyone who has read Lloyd deMause's several books on the history of child abuse (see www.psychohistory.com) knows of the ghastly treatment traditionally afforded the young. As recently as Roman times young boys were lent out to men friends for their sexual entertainment, and little girls, those who earlier escaped infanticide and survived routine beatings, were raped on stage to the hoots and guffaws of cheering audiences. In two millennia most humans have advanced a step or two in the treatment of children, but we all know parents who strike and shake their kids, and defend the violence as "discipline". To suggest the truth to the spankers and slappers - that their homes are the training ground for the crime and wars they claim to disparage - may well provoke biblical "justifications" and vitriolic defense.
Here now we have a book from UNESCO that explains the urgent necessity of abolishing completely the practice of hitting children, and reveals the evidence that corporal punishment results in seriously damaging consequences. Most importantly, it also points the way to replacing the pervasive violent treatment with humane and effective childrearing practices. This milestone book will be read worldwide, and is sure to have a positive impact on how children are viewed by parents and by legislative bodies. Its importance cannot be overstated.
That corporal punishment violates the rights of children is made emphatically clear. Working in the framework of the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child - specifically Article 19 - this book is the result of an extensive in-depth international study of corporal punishment practices; the findings are to be presented to the General Assembly. More than ten years ago the Committee on the Rights of the child stated that the provision, "all forms of corporal punishment of children, including within the family, are prohibited," has to be taken seriously by all member nations. Today, 192 nations have signed that U.N. Convention On the Rights of the Child. To our shame, the United States remains one of the two nations that have refused to ratify it. The other is Somalia.
The structure this book provides is simple: Each of the three main sections the book addresses as aspect of the physical punishment problem. The first section addresses the urgent importance and necessity of renouncing all aggression - physical and psychological - inflicted upon children. Reports from no less than 130 nations were considered in this section. The clear aim is to protect children from "all forms of physical or mental violence", including in the family, school, and care centers. Section Two lays out the facts on the prevalence of CP and its consequential impact on children and society. "CP is counterproductive, relatively ineffective, dangerous and harmful according to research findings." There have been found to be clear connections to poor mental health, aggression, anti-social behavior, and later domestic and criminal violence.
The Third Section provides insight and approaches for constructive child discipline. Emphasis here is the involvement of the children in family decisions that affect them. Suggested are family meetings, and the importance of adults modeling the behaviors and attitudes they wish to see in the children. The fundamental message is to have respect for the child's dignity as a valid and worthy human being. For those currently aware of the dangers of C P, the importance of this publication lies in its recommendations for non-violent, positive discipline.
This profoundly helpful book will, I believe, prove to be a landmark in the evolution of non-violent parenting. Moreover, it will be seen as a giant step in the advance toward world peace. It shows that violence is taught to children beginning in their cribs, and is in turn inflicted on the world by the victimized during their respective lifetimes. It may not be easy to accept that home and school are the training grounds for both crime and national aggression, but it must be said - altho this UNESCO book, probably wisely, stops short of stating its case in as blunt terms as I do here.
In the violence-ridden and deeply suffering world we are heir to, there is a desperate need to see the way out: that eliminating corporal punishment is the key to a better, happier world, and this first step deserves priority attention in every political and educational agenda on earth. Furthermore, it is an idea whose time has come. We are at a time when over 40 years of research has accumulated showing the tragic consequences of corporal punishment on many millions of children and on society in general. Its brutal practice fills our prisons, our mental health hospitals, our court systems, and our welfare rolls. Its annual cost to U.S. taxpayers alone is in the tens of billions of dollars annually.
This is an important book, a document that I expect will become a landmark in our decades-long struggle to ban the hitting of children worldwide. Published by UNESCO, it has worldwide distribution. Extensive and careful research supports every word and phrase. It will wake up those not yet understanding the profound impact CP has on a child. This compact and vital information shows just how to adopt non-violent, democratic and effective means of instilling self-discipline for the children for whom they are responsible. For the millions who are already awakened to the need for change in childrearing and seeking the latest and most authoritative guide to enlightened parental discipline, these pages are a pleasure and a thrill to read. - Norm Lee