SPANKING - Questions and answers about disciplinary violence
Olivier Maurel


Because it is largely French-speaking, it is on Africa that it has been possible for me to gather the most information. We should not conclude that Africans are particularly violent. I just haven't been able to get as much information about the Americas or Asia. As we shall see, moreover, a good amount of the material below comes from African sources and point to a realization of how serious of the phenomenon of disciplinary violence is.  

First, a few general statements. In a compendium on psychological abuse,1 Togo psychologist Ferdinand Ezembé puts disciplinary violence in its cultural context: "With respect to raising children, there exists in African societies a rather widespread belief that one must prepare children to live in an environment that will be physically and psychologically hostile2. . . Corporal punishment is thus a normal part of children's upbringing, and it is further used and legitimized by administrative, judicial et educational authorities. Parents who do otherwise are considered to be lax, or even negligent. According to a proverb of the Bassa people of Cameroon, if you want to raise your child well, treat him like a slave. Africans view physical punishment as virtuous teaching . . . Among the Wolof people of Senegal, 'teaching' and 'stick' are designated by the same noun: Yar.3 To avoid being compromised by sympathy for their children, Wolofs entrust their discipline to an uncle or a marabout [holy man], because according to an old proverb, 'strangers have no pity' . . . The practice of violence against children takes especially serious forms for juvenile delinquents. In Senegal, street children are referred to as human clutter. Michel Galy (1995) reports that in Zaire some passers-by do not hesitate to snuff out their cigarettes on the bodies of sleeping street children, they say, 'teach them to live'. These children are often whipped by police with methodical cruelty in a ritual to drive out their bad tendencies."   

Another African journalist, Ousmane Thiény, for his part, laments the fact that "a child is subject to corporal correction by any villager or close neighbor whatsoever who decides [the child] has committed a serious offense against custom. This could be refusing or failing to give a proper greeting, refusal to do an errand, uttering rude insults in the presence of elders, etc.".   

Meanwhile, Boubacar lssa Camara, a former teacher who once served as director of education and health for the Nigerian Ministry of Public Health, describes the general situation in Africa this way (Cahiers de la Réconciliation n° 4, 2000): He begins by acknowledging that "the use of violence in African education . . . does tremendous harm to young people. At Koranic school, the child starting at age three or four, has been a victim to some degree of corporal punishment, though nothing serious, of course." The "marabout," the religious teacher, very often goes around the circle formed by the students with a crop in his hand; whoever cannot recite their Sura best beware. The fear of the teacher, the stress that students go through when they pass by the teacher, is such that some of them may lose control of their sphincter. Fortunately, things are improving with the advent of young professors fresh from the madrasas, who are more modern, more learned, and better trained to teach. So this situation is increasingly no more than a distant memory." But it probably tells us something about the high threshold of tolerance toward corporal punishment in Africa that Boubacar Issa Camara considers lashes of the crop, fear of which causes the children to urinate or defecate on themselves, to be "nothing serious"!   

He continues: "The modern European-style schools are no better off than the Koranic schools in terms of teacher conduct. The use of violence, whether verbal or physical, is a well-known phenomenon, although it is becoming less and less common. Alas, there are still teachers who do not hesitate to land blows on students for not having learned their material. Sometimes the teacher's reaction is strictly verbal, yet no less harmful. The teacher refers to his students as 'imbeciles' and pointedly makes fun of those who are having difficulty learning. Students are beaten, insulted, sent home for the day, because they did not sweep the playground before the resumption of classes." Boubacar Issa Camara then gives some specific examples of violence: "The child is made to kneel upon the foot of the blackboard for an hour because he has not learned his material. This position is so painful that the student, his whole body trembling, covered with sweat, tears streaming from his thoroughly reddened eyes, is ready to cry "help." The student is required to stand facing the sun, staring eyes-wide-open at the star. When you consider how bright the sun's rays are in Africa, the kind of harm this positioning can do to a child is obvious. Not only psychologically, but above all to his physical health. Other punishments: the child must crouch, put his arms under his knees and hold onto both ears. It is out of the question for his buttocks to touch the ground."   

In his book The African Child [alternately published as The Dark Child], African writer Camara Laye recounts the treatment he endured at the hands of older students put in charge by the school principal of making the younger students gather up leaves that were scattered across the school courtyard: "If the work was not going as quickly as the headmaster expected, the big boys, instead of giving us a helping hand, used to find it simpler to whip us with branches pulled from the trees. Now guava wood is regrettably flexible; skillfully handled, the springy switches used to whistle piercingly, and fall like flails of fire on our backsides. Our flesh stung and smarted, while tears of anguish sprang from our eyes and splashed on the rotting leaves at our feet."   

An ethnologist, Madame Ortigues [HYPERNOTE? Marie-Cécile Ortigues (], belonging to an association dedicated to African street children, recounts, on the association's web site what students go through at certain Koranic schools: "If the child returns empty-handed [i.e., without money for the schoolmaster who has sent him out to beg or to labor], he is beaten quite severely; this can go as far as one hundred lashes with an electric cord. We have learned of the case of an eight-year-old child who died as a result . . . Plenty of children have told me proudly during a consult, 'my father hits me good.'"   

Some African sayings are also telling. When parents entrust their child to a master for whom he will be an apprentice, at times they will say to him: The flesh is yours, and the bones are ours, a remark which serves to grant authorization to hit the child up to a certain point. To the teacher at a Koranic school, parents may say: You kill him, and I'll bury him. Another saying: It takes a stick to make the goat walk.   

One cannot help but second the rallying cry of Ousmane Thiény, who in an impassioned plea to renounce corporal punishment, this "crime against childhood," writes: "To the adage 'Spare the Rod, spoil the child,' we should counter, 'Spare the rod, protect the child.'"    

Northern Africa  

The reports made by these nations typically have an optimism that borders on the Pollyannaish. "Families never engage in physical abuse," "children blossom in a climate of affection", "abuse is very rare." But the reality appears to be quite different. The Moroccan report, for example, assured that "the problem [of physical punishment] was linked to levels of economic and social development." But, in Stolen Lives, by Malika Oufkir, we learn that the king himself--whose "level of socio-economic development" can hardly be blamed--subjected her over a trivial matter to the torture of the falaka, which consisted of beating the soles of her feet with a cudgel while she was slung across a slave's back. This same king, Hassan II, writes in his Mémoires: "Up until the age of ten or twelve years, I received strokes of the cane, and I was glad that it was my Father giving them rather than someone else . . . You know, to this day in the Koranic schools, the fquih [traditional schoolmaster] always carries a rod. It is applied to the wrists, preferably. I have showed the same parental severity toward my own children, and by God's grace I have not had problems raising them. You should never make appeals to logic with children, because you are demanding a level of reasoning that is beyond their mind's ability and of which they do not always grasp the purpose. When you make arguments to them, they will think that you are trying to negotiate. Simply put, with children at that age, you must, as Pascal would say, bend the machine, and treat them as animals. It is only later that they will be able to understand you and will no longer interpret such discussion as a sign of weakness."  

The punishment of the falaka was being inflicted at school, in the early 80's (as related by a Moroccan student). A system of tourniquets would secure the ankles of the students who were to be punished onto a wooden bar, so that the teacher could readily strike the soles of their feet. Practiced by a father upon his son in the Tunisian film Halfaouine, l'enfant des terrasses, it is probably common throughout the Maghreb region. As something administered to prisoners, it has been rightly denounced. Why does no one say anything about it when administered to children?  

Falaka was also once practiced in a highly ritualized manner in the Jewish families of Tunisia, often by the father and the rabbi at the same time, each seeing to one of the child's feet.    

On June 30, 2002, the journal Libération de Casablanca released the results of a study among children aged 3-15 conducted by an NGO and published by UNICEF. It was revealed that 72% of Moroccan students were subjected to physical punishments. Other results, probably from questions directed to the children, put the percentage at 85%, and this despite corporal punishment being formally banned in the schools. After presenting this report, a UNICEF representative expressed hope for the establishment of a "child-friendly" school.  

In Tunisia a survey performed by a group of pediatricians among 70 parents from the culturally traditional population in the Sousse region found that 80% of them had been beaten as children. 64% of them thought this had been positive for their upbringing. The authors of the survey noted: "Beating a child, much like beating one's wife, is considered to be a given." They also said that they had compiled a number of adages extolling the beneficial effects of the stick.  

West Africa

Nation reports show that corporal punishment is applied in the majority of these countries, both at home and at school. BeninMali, and Senegal, which have officially banned it in the schools, acknowledge that in fact "traditional social norms continue to encourage resort to such punishment" and "corporal punishment is not banned in Senegal, because the Senegalese society holds that if discipline is to be effective, punitive measures must be allowed". Article 285 of the Family Code grants anyone having parental authority the right to impose punishments and reprimands to a degree commensurate with the child's age and the correction of its behavior. A study done at a hospital in Senegal4 recorded only a few acts of violence against infants. Most of the children concerned are between 11 and 15 years (70.45 %), primarily male (57.95%), with the skull being the most frequent injury site (40.74%). Ferdinand Ezembé, who reports these facts, points out also that 36% of elementary school teachers still admit to using physical correction to punish students. The "punitive measures" in certain Koranic schools involve chaining up the children, shackles on their feet, sometimes for several months, and inserting hot embers into their ears, which burns the eardrum. In Mali a survey of four elementary schools and four middle schools found that 39% of girl students have been subjected to corporal punishment. In Niger, according to a study done in a hospital's ophthalmology department, 26.4% of treated eye traumas were due to women and children being slapped.    

In Niger the report of official non-governmental organizations and other groups on the implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child (September 2001), protection from maltreatment is a right recognized by the Constitution, and the penal code in theory protects the child from all forms abuse or violence. "However, corporal punishment is still practiced in the family setting and in the Koranic schools, and legal redress course from the courts over such treatment is virtually non-existent. It is the same story for young girls forced into arranged marriages, who are suffering emotionally and physically from acts of bodily violence against them.” The delegate from Togo, meanwhile, "assured the Committee that concerned professionals in Togo were aware of such issues and resorted to very light corporal punishment only on rare occasions." But the testimony of a holy woman from this country does not affirm such optimism: "Numerous parents attribute their personal success to the many blows and other maltreatments that were practiced in their day. It is difficult to say what percentage of parents use corporal punishment to discipline their children. They are yet unable to conceive of discipline that does not rely on it.  The children who are severely beaten the most are servant girls (6 to 15 years) and young apprentices (9 to 17 years) . . . In some churches, you might see adults provided with a stick to keep order among a group of children. We are still a long way from having dialog, understanding, and affection take the place of sticks." A survey by the International Federation for Children's Rights (FIDE for its initials in French) concludes that 96% of children are coming under disciplinary violence. This organization embarked in March 2004 on a campaign against corporal punishment: circulation of a manifesto against disciplinary violence, circulation of this book, and television appearances.   

In Ghana corporal punishment is "institutionalized . . . as a means of discipline, particularly in schools," and the teachers' manual gives them license to use strokes of the cane as a disciplinary measure. The same manual, published by the Ministery of Education, states that corporal punishment can be inflicted as a last resort, even though it points teachers toward various forms of discipline other than corporal punishment. The delegate from Ghana furthermore adds: "There had recently been suggestions in the press that such punishment should be reintroduced in certain schools. However, efforts had been made to make the Ministry of Education realize that such practices were in violation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Rules could not be imposed on schools; it was possible only to advocate a particular point of view and to hope that schools would heed it. In the past, any pupil could be caned by a teacher. Following protests, it had been decided that only head teachers might inflict caning and that particulars of the case should be recorded and be approved by inspectors." The delegate from Ghana recognized that "corporal punishment was practiced, and even encouraged, in Ghana." Article 41 a) of this country's penal code authorizes parents or those having custody of a child to inflict physical violence on him "within reason." Nonetheless, as one of the Committee members emphasized, "most child abuse begins with a use of force for disciplinary purposes," and "the harmful effects of corporal punishment had been well documented."   

In Guinea the penal code officially prohibits corporal punishment, but during the same session, the Guinean delegate reports that corporal punishment has effectively been banned in "almost all of the public and private schools" (session of 1/27/99), which puts the first claim into perspective. The Guinean delegate acknowledges that "violence was a problem of significant concern in Guinean society: parents must be encouraged to understand that a child who was brought up in an atmosphere of violence inevitably grew up to be violent and that, in order to lead a successful and happy life, a child must be brought up in a peaceful home." Their government was to make efforts to bring "a sense of harmony and equilibrium into Guinean family life."  

  In Sierra Leone according to this country's delegate (session of 1/20/2000), "corporal punishment is not much practiced today. In the schools, no teacher other than the principal has authority to impose this punishment, and only female teachers may mete it out to girls." In reality, as the Committee attests, "corporal punishment remains widespread" in the home and at school. So it was that in May 1997, supposedly in response to a rise of criminal behavior influenced by American music and movies, students who were following American fashion trends by braiding their hair or wearing earrings, were publicly flogged and then sent home.   

East Africa  

In this region, government attitudes are very mixed. One country, Kenya, has banned school corporal punishment, while another, Tanzania, is close to doing so, despite resistance from the population and often from teachers. There is likewise resistance in Zambia, where people don't want to "imitate the ways of Westerners who have problems with delinquents." When two Zambian children in October 1999 had their limbs nearly broken by their teacher for playing hooky, they did not complain, nor was there any protest by their parents, their schoolmates, or the general public. Tanzania, in its 1994 report, stated that the government had undertaken to create an African movement for the prevention of and protections against child mistreatment, suggesting a certain degree of awareness of the problem. It also referred to "violence within the family" as one of the factors leading children to live on the street or to do labor despite their age. Since that time, there appear to be signs of growing awareness, as in December 1997 the Chinese news wire service Xinhua was reporting: "[Tanzanian] authorities, who signed the Charter on the Rights of the Child, have woken up to the traumatic effects of corporal punishment and to the obvious abuses to which teachers' license to hit inevitably leads. Indeed, participants at a workshop on corporal punishment in the elementary schools discovered that children were being beaten for infractions such as arriving late to class, giving wrong answers, or not wearing the school uniform. Many children have also been beaten for their parents' inability to pay tuition fees, or for no reason at all."  The last news to be heard (March 2000) was that the government would soon to put an end to school corporal punishment. In Tanzania, the government report acknowledges that "violence within the family" puts many children out on the street or off to work in spite of their age; they dare not return home.   

The report out of the Comoros gives an idea of the violent/brutal punishments used in certain Koranic schools: "Some teachers chose to punish 'bad pupils' by inflicting a humiliating punishment which consists of marching them half-naked through the village, their faces smeared with mud or soot, and forcing them to wear a necklace made of snails' shells . . . Dressed in the manner described above and jeered by the other children, the child being punished is made to shout out his misdeed." This punishment is "frequently preceded by beatings, wet stinging nettle baths and exposure to the sun after being coated in sugar cane syrup . . . generations of Koranic teachers have perpetuated a tradition which views the child as a wayward being who needs to be 'subdued' through the use of force and corporal punishment." 

Kenya fairly recently abolished corporal punishment in the schools. The decision was possibly made easier by the fact that caning was seen as a legacy of the British empire: "When we were under British rule, those who refused to pay taxes or those who did not obey the rules were caned in public" (source: Lawrence Kahindi Majali, deputy general secretary of Kenya's national teachers' union). On the other hand, the violence of corporal punishment in this country is such that in the late 90's, at least six students had died from it in four years. Strokes of the cane are not only routine in the schools, but some students have even been seriously injured: "bruises and cuts, broken bones, knocked-out teeth and internal bleeding," we learn from the NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW), based in New York, in a recent report entitled Spare the Child: Corporal Punishment in Kenyan Schools. Based on a field study (several dozen interviews with students, teachers, parents, and administrators), HRW's report underscores how Kenyan children are often punished for minor infractions, for instance, tardiness or wearing a torn uniform. The consequences of this are serious. According to a recent study, the rate of school attendance is falling sharply. Today, only 42% of those who begin elementary school continue all the way through. The researchers believe that this drop is due to, among other factors, poverty and a hostile school environment. "Some students told us that they dropped out of school because of severe beating by their teachers,” reports Yodon Thonden. “This is in clear violation of children's right to education."    

Victims often come from the countryside, where people lack the means to hire a lawyer to argue their case, and where legal aid is limited. Moreover, "In rural areas, parents don't formally object to their children being beaten for fear they [the children] might be victimized further," says Mwakish So far no teacher has been convicted for these deaths," observes journalist Jemimah Mwakisha, who has written long articles on the subject for Kenya's largest daily paper, the Daily Nation. It is very rare for a professor to be convicted of assault and battery. In some cases, recalls Jemimah Mwakisha, teachers brought before the courts were not sanctioned because it was impossible to ascribe a provable motive, as required under penal law.   

Kenya's Ministry of Education has officially denied HRW's allegations, accusing them of blowing a few isolated incidents out of proportion. But in private, a high-ranking ministry official acknowledges that the report was "more or less correct" Teachers "brutally beat children in many schools without any proper reason," he adds. "This is a practice that can only be stopped by abolishing corporal punishment altogether."   

In Rwanda finally, according to a friend from Cameroon who questioned Rwandan academics, disciplinary violence toward children is extreme. A Rwandan member of a religious order wrote to Alice Miller that children are "beaten far and wide, even at school and sometimes, alas, by our own religious teachers. It is a widespread element of the culture here: a child must be 'trained' with 'force.'"   

Zambia defended the use of corporal punishment at school until just recently. The Ministry of Education declared itself on August 31, 1999, to have no intention of abolishing it. In the minister's view, corporal punishment is "a means of cracking down that should be used in rare cases to correct undisciplined students." Teachers and parents alike tend to feel that without corporal punishment, children will misbehave at school: "Much as we might like to imitate the civilized peoples of the West, let us drop this nonsense about human rights, or else we are going to raise undisciplined children. We strike every one of our children at home because we believe it straightens them up. If we thought there were other effective methods, we would use them," asserts a private schoolmistress in Lusaka. One headmaster declares that parents are counting on teachers to discipline the schoolchildren: "Some parents come to see me with their children and ask me to hit them because they're misbehaving at home." One student's parent, when asked about the subject, feels that corporal punishment is a good punishment as long as it doesn't leave injury marks on the child's body. As he sees it, if such punishment is abolished, children will be able to haul their parents into court for striking them. He adds: "Let's not take up Western ways, with all the delinquency problems they have." As far as he's concerned, Zambian culture considers corporal punishment to be a good disciplinary measure and not a human rights violation. Any move against it would be a collective abdication of responsibility. By contrast, his wife, a special education tutor, would like to see corporal punishment abolished and proposes alternative punishments such as loss of privileges, detention hall, and chores. In October 1999, two Zambian children had their limbs nearly broken by their teacher for playing hooky. They were hospitalized with severe injuries. Yet neither they nor their parents made a complaint.  As far as their classmates are concerned, these two had simply been punished for skipping school. There was no outcry or public debate when the incident was mentioned in the press. Lavu Malimba, president of the Permanent Human Rights Commission (PHRC) thinks that "people will simply have to be made less complacent and shown that corporal punishment is inhumane." The PHRC and the Zambia Law Development Commission (ZLDC), who view corporal punishment as a "cruel, dehumanizing, and degrading" practice, both call for repeal of the amendment to the Education Act which authorizes corporal punishment and states that only in African customary law is it as a crime. For the ZLDC, corporal punishment is in contradiction with the Zambian Constitution and international legal instruments such as the convention on torture which Zambia has signed. But all that appears to be in for a change following a decision passed in early May of 2000. A judgment which sentenced a young man of 19 years to ten strokes of the cane for vandalism was struck down on appeal, the judge having ruled that this punishment, "brutal relic of English law, which was applied only to blacks, goes against the Constitutional ban on inhuman and degrading punishment." This judgment would presumably have to be upheld by the Supreme Court and apply to the schools as well.     

Equally damning is the account of a Swiss teacher who taught in Zambia for a few semesters (Corinne Moesching, source: ProtestInfo): "The young girl walked into the teacher's lounge covered in blood, visibly shaken. As I was getting her to lie down, I saw that she had a head wound that would need several stitches. Despite the medical report, the professor who had struck her was not prosecuted . . . Sometimes, an entire class would be beaten, and I could hear the swish of the cane in the next room . . . The teachers, underpaid as they were and under lax management, would hit the students with whatever they could lay their hands on: blackboard erasers, canes, rubber rods." A witness against her will, this longtime teacher tried to do something: "I was the only one who dared to speak up; even the parents keep quiet for fear their children will be attacked further. As for me, I was fast made to understand that I shouldn't be meddling." Powerless in view of this situation, the teacher decided to quickly end her term and went back to Switzerland.   

In Congo-Kinshasa, on World Mental Health Day 2002 (October 29), whose theme that year was "The Effects of Trauma and Violence on Children and Adolescents," the health minister, Dr. Mashako Mamba lamented that parents and other adults, especially in the Republic of Congo, were creating a daily environment of trauma and violence against children. This is what drives these children to wander the streets. "From our homes, from our churches, from our schools, and from learning centers and the like, we are putting thousands of children out into the street. Let us make a real commitment to reduce this violence against children," he urged Congolese adults. His plea to children was not only that they stand up for their rights, but also that they avoid violence and not copy the adults, thereby stopping the endless chain of violence (Le Phare - Kinshasa, 10/30/02, article by Guy-Marin Kamandji).   

In Ethiopia the Civil Code expressly permits parents to inflict, by way of discipline, "mild corporal punishment" on their children. There is reason to hope, however, that an awakening will come about in this country thanks the association of Ethiopian psychologists who, during a seminar organized on January 15, 1999, by the leader of the upper house of Ethiopian parliament, denounced the use of corporal punishment and suggested that parents and teachers stop these practices, which he said were prohibited by the new state Constitution.   

Central Africa   

Especially in Chad but also in the other countries of the region, "corporal punishment is standard practice in the traditional education of children"; "There had been some tradition in Koranic and even Christian schools that such punishment contributed to a child's development and education . . ." The government has tried to ban it, but is running into strong resistance, particularly from the Koranic schools.    

In Burundi authorities recognize that "children are more often the victims than the originators of violence" and that "the reality is that children are subjected to cruelty and ill treatment." But they would have us believe that this is "often at the hands of parents who are in distress, or unfit to be parents, or alcoholics," which amounts to concealment, as is often the case, of the enormous problem of corporal punishment underlying abuses singled out by the justice system.   

In Cameroon there is a Bassa proverb: "If you want raise your child well, treat him like a slave." Sadly, this proverb appears to have been put into practice, as an extensive survey conducted by the Cameroonian association EMIDA (whose full name translates as "Eliminating Domestic Child Abuse in Africa" [TFN: since changed to "Education for Personal Well-Being and Development of Aftica"]) with backing from UNICEF, revealed that 83.9% of parents said they used caning to discipline their children; 90.6% said they had been caned at home; 90.3% of teachers reported using the cane in the classroom; 96% of children reported having been caned in class; 21 children (out of 2059 children interviewed) reported never having been beaten at home or school. Beatings are inflicted with rods, canes, dense creeper plants (la chicotte) or an electric cord. One student from this same country, facing punishment by the disciplinary board, was expelled from the vocational school in Mefomo, at the beginning of April 1999, because he would not submit to receive 155 (one hundred and fifty-five!) strokes of the cane on the soles of his feet. For several years, however, physical abuse in the classroom has officially been outlawed in Cameroon.   

In Nigeria the national representative, in the October 1996 session, affirmed that "[School] corporal punishment was not permitted by the legislation of any State" (Nigeria is a federation), but that in fact, "cultural influences meant that it did take place here and there. Where corporal punishment was administered in a school, it was strictly controlled and the school's own advisory board would have defined the circumstances in which it could be used." But, in July 1999, corporal punishment was reinstated under the pretext of unacceptably poor levels of discipline. Teachers thus have license to flog children. Unlike in the past, however, "canings" are not to be inflicted by one's own schoolmates (Express postal, Lagos, July 10, 1999).

In Uganda in 1996, corporal punishment was still being meted out. The nation's representative, however, lamented that students in every school were being whipped by teachers when only the principal of a school was authorized to impose corporal punishment. "Sometimes this takes a serious dimension resulting in injury. There is a need to take serious measures to curb this illegal and degrading practice which is not consistent with the children's rights and dignity . . . At present a child under the age of 16 can be given corporal punishment. Corporal punishment is offensive, infringes the rights of the child and it does not promote the child's sense of dignity. The draft bill for the Children's Statute has outlawed corporal punishment or caning as a form of punishment in the children and family court."   

The following year, a law was passed that ran counter to public opinion, which remains quite supportive of corporal punishment. During the session of 10/2/1997, the representative from Uganda stated that his country's government "had revised the school syllabus to include more tuition on children's rights and the Ministry of Education was likewise alive to the need to contribute to a safe school environment which respected the rights of the child. Consequently, corporal punishment in schools had been abolished despite stiff opposition owing to traditional attitudes in the community; alternative methods were being tried out. Children were readier to report attempts by teachers to hit or sexually abuse them, as the young people realized not only that such behavior was wrong, but that they could take action to halt it. In addition, community sensitization and mobilization programs had opened parents' eyes to the issue." However, not long after (October 7, 1997 session), the government representative tempered this optimism by declaring that caning "was a practice of long-standing and it would be some time before it actually disappeared." The facts have largely borne out those comments. Parents are pressuring teachers to return to this method of discipline. And their voices have apparently been heard, considering that in April 1999, fifty students were beaten by their teachers for not running as well as they were expected to (Le Moniteur, Kampala, April 7, 1999). But this hard-line stance of the Ugandan government is quite rare and so deserves to be highlighted.    

Southern Africa  

In the Republic of South Africa corporal punishment in the past was systematically applied in accordance with well-established rules. Disobedience and tardiness, but also smoking, were punishable by caning or flogging. These punishments were sometimes so brutal that in March 1997, an 18-year-old student tried to commit suicide by offering himself up to the lions at a nature reserve, rather than take the chance of being beaten once again by teachers who had inflicted sixty strokes of the cane upon him. And if the director of a Salvation Army center in 1972 saw his name and picture in the newspaper, it wasn't for having beaten several children at the center, but because he first made them take down their pants. In 1997, "The Constitutional Court ruled that corporal punishment of children as a sentence imposed by courts was a violation of the right to freedom from 'cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.' The Abolition of Corporal Punishment Act (1997) outlaws such sentences. Corporal punishment of children has also been prohibited in the South African Schools Act (1996) and is now a criminal offence. Parents retain common law powers of moderate chastisement, as part of the parental power. Corporal punishment in institutions falling under the Child Care Act (1983) is still permissible in terms of its regulations. Legally, corporal punishment may no longer be imposed upon persons in prison for infractions of prison disciplinary rules." (5/22/98 report). The New Domestic Violence Act, which went into effect in December of 1999, allows a child to directly seek protection, without requiring his parents' assistance (2/2/2000 session). Some pilot programs were set up to help parents rely on negotiation rather than physical punishment.   

Plenty of teachers, though, still believe in the three T's--Teach, Try, Thrash--as the sole means of restoring order. A Christian organization representing 196 schools and 14,500 students sued to win the preservation of corporal punishment ("Biblical chastisement"), which it considers part of their constitutional right to religious and cultural freedom. On August 18, 2000, however, the Constitutional Court of South Africa upheld the ban. The Xhosa people of Africa also claim  corporal punishment as part of their culture.    

In Namibia many teachers and parents complain about the government's prohibition, so much so that at one school without major discipline problems, a father came demanding that his child be beaten. The teachers provided him with a cane, which he used to beat the child in their presence.   

In Swaziland corporal punishment is still sanctioned. But in September 1999, after a twelve-year-old student lost an eye because a teacher had hit her with a tree branch, the president of the Youth Congress, Bongani Masuku, called for a ban on corporal punishment (to no avail, apparently). (Source: South African Press Association, Sept. 29, 1999).   

In Botswana, where the cane is still used to impose discipline, a great many teachers feel that if corporal punishment is "applied lovingly," then it's not abuse (according to the March 10, 1999 edition of a local newspaper).    

The same attitude is found in Madagascar, whose representative is well aware that "Cruelty and ill-treatment of children are facts of life in Madagascar," though he adds this questionable aside: "(unfit or alcoholic parents, poverty, etc.)," when clearly this is a matter of traditional customs. While "teachers, educationists, and lawyers are taking awareness-raising classes concerning children's rights", "children's rights have begun" only "to be taught in the primary schools," and "programs to educate adults as to their responsibilities are also planned."   

Following 16 years of civil war in Mozambique (1976-1992), terror had been institutionalized by the FRELIMO [Liberation Front of Mozambique]. After the war, the FRELIMO stated that it was going to win the next elections and even the ones after that, because "when a mother beats her child, the child then cuddles up to her"! This notion, which has a proverbial ring to it, should occasion some reflection. It illustrates both a child's attachment to his mother, no matter how she treats it, and the cynical Machiavellianism that capitalizes so shrewdly on the reflexes created by disciplinary violence in order to maintain a political order.    

In Zimbabwe, the Supreme Court had decided in 1989 to eliminate corporal punishment in the schools, but between that time and 1996, the government reinstated it in the Constitution. "The law allows for use of corporal punishment at school as well within the family" (June 7, 1996 report). But incidents of maltreatment are deemed "not very common." The country's representative (February 4,1997 session) indicated that "Children playing a part in school management" "by drawing the attention of those in charge of the schools to students' concerns" had brought about "an overall decrease in the number of corporal punishments meted out". These punishments, however, are arranged to be "a sort of ceremony in the headmaster's presence and with the punished child's name recorded in a ledger. The situation is built up for dramatic effect, and the student is placed under a permanent cloud of shame, which, as the Committee notes, goes against provisions in Article 28, paragraph 2 of the Convention".  On the question of how proportionate the blows are, "it depends, as the delegate acknowledges, not on the seriousness of the offense, but rather on the mood of the person delivering the punishment in question". The Committee also suggests that Zimbabwe follow "the example of Namibia, which has banned corporal punishment in the schools and instructs teachers in how to avoid it." But the Zimbabwean authorities are inclined to attribute "violence committed within the family" to violent content on television, though it was occurring long before television existed!   

Finally, it appears that in several African countries, as mentioned earlier, women who carry their babies on their back customarily spank them in their first weeks of life in order to condition them into cleanliness, each time they answer nature's call, until they make a habit of signaling their urges by crying. This way the mothers can put them on the ground before getting soiled. How are these women to know the negative consequences of treating a baby this way if nobody educates them?  

Proceed to:

Europe, Africa, The Americas, Asia, Oceania

Proceed/return to:


1 – A Brief History of Disciplinary Violence
2 – The Nature of Disciplinary Violence and Opinions on the Matter
3 – Why we must stop using corporal punishment
4 – How can we raise children without hitting?
5 – Why is it necessary to ban disciplinary violence?
6 – What to do?
7 – Question for the author
8 – Questions for the reader

World geography of disciplinary violence by continent and country

I – Introduction for the EMIDA Family Education Program
II – Why the Church must denounce ordinary disciplinary violence
III – Resistance every advocate of a spanking ban can expect to face
IV – Declaration against "disciplinary" violence



1. M. Gabel, S. Lebovici, P. Mazet. Maltraitance Psychologique; Fleurus (Paris), 1996

2. Ellein B, Afamefuna 1986

3. Akin to the French word discipline, which at one time could mean either a branch of knowledge or whipping.

4. Sow, Mbaye, Benaise; 1994