SPANKING - Questions and answers about disciplinary violence
Olivier Maurel


Central America and Mexico

All over the region, as in Mexico, "physical and sexual abuse - within and outside the family - is a serious problem." In Costa Rica, corporal punishment is "part of the culture" and "remains regarded as socially acceptable." In Honduras, and most likely in the other nations as well, the problem is so serious that family violence is considered to be a factor in children being "forced to live in and/or work on the streets." Also throughout the region, "the notion seemed to persist that [children] were not autonomous individuals, but the property of the family." Honduras, Mexico, and Nicaragua have taken steps to try to limit corporal punishment. Other countries, on the contrary, stress children's duty to respect and obey their parents while overlooking parents' duty to respect their children. In Belize, during a consultation on the Convention, many parents expressed fears that their parental rights would be restricted, especially when it comes to corporal punishment.  

In Nicaragua, a law was passed in 1996 to try to curb the use of physical punishment. The country's representative, however, acknowledged that "with the mindset so entrenched that children are their parents' property, it will take more than legislation to eradicate these practices."  

In Guatemala, "The ill-treatment of children appeared to be endemic . . . where the notion seemed to persist that they were not autonomous individuals, but the property of the family." Family violence is mistakenly attributed to "decades of conflict affecting society [that] have resulted in the frequent use of violence, including within the family." As if it took conflicts and wars for parents to smite their children!

In Ecuador, physical punishment is "a culturally accepted and justified practice" that is "linked to a tradition of educational discipline," and its use could even be described, as one member of the Committee put it, as a "culture of violence toward children in the family." Another Committee member notes, "On the issue of child abuse, punishment of children in schools appeared to be condoned by families to the extent that some parents expressly asked teachers to make sure their children were punished properly." In May of 1998, the government created a "Commission for the Elimination of Maltreatment of Children." [UN translation of original French]

In El Salvador, the initial report finds that "those who commit abuse are most often mothers than fathers." This could be in part because women are often the heads of households. In any case, it cannot be denied that for reasons largely unclear, women are doing their part to perpetuate machismo." (Session of October 5, 1993). 


In all the nations of this region, "occurrence of child abuse and neglect within the family are matters of concern." A Committee member speaks of a veritable "tradition of violence" prevailing in this region.

In 1999 in the Bahamas, in a school for Seventh Day Adventists, a 12-year-old boy was struck 70 times with a cane. The reporting of this punishment by the press spurred a debate in April of that same year, after which "caning" was abolished. But use of the flat ruler remains "normal."

The Supreme Court of Barbados recently issued a judgment recognizing the right of teachers to impose corporal punishment on children (Report of 2/11/97). Corporal punishment can be imposed at school "as part of the disciplinary procedure. However, such force must be no more than is reasonably necessary in all circumstances." A Committee member wondered, "What happened when the reasonable limits - which were difficult to establish - were exceeded by teachers?" The representative from Barbados then explained that "the current law in Barbados under the Prevention of Cruelty to Children Act still referred to ‘moderate chastisement’ - a somewhat subjective concept - as a method of punishment and discipline. A number of cases had been brought before the courts and in most of them it had been decided that the punishment had been so excessive as to constitute physical abuse. However, in other cases it had been decided that if, for example, the child's skin had not been broken or he or she had been only moderately bruised, that constituted moderate chastisement." To which another member, Mrs. Karp, responded that "if courts found that, as long as the child's bones were not broken, moderate chastisement rather than abuse had taken place, that would impede efforts to create an atmosphere of non-violence." The government of Barbados, however, says it is committed to "continue to work energetically towards the abolition of corporal punishment"; it considers "corporal punishment to be a harmful and counter-productive practice, were encouraging parents to use other methods of education and discipline and to establish an ongoing dialogue with their children from a very early age. Day nurseries and schools were strongly discouraged from having recourse to corporal punishment."  Nonetheless, corporal punishment was "still advocated as an educational method by some of the country's religious authorities." The worst part is that some black families originally from Barbados who reside in Great Britain are shipping their children back because they feel that English schools lack discipline and because the Barbadan school system includes flogging. It is applied for, among other things, not paying attention and wearing jewelry or makeup (Times, July 15, 1996).

The delegate from Belize qualified that "no customary practices harmful to children other than corporal punishment existed in Belize [emphasis added]." The representative of the Belizean government also stressed that "during the consultations held in connection with the Convention, many parents had expressed the fear of having their parental rights restricted, especially with regard to corporal punishment." "The Ministry of Education's School Rules provided for corporal punishment as a last resort" (administered only by the principal) "in a way that would not cause bodily harm to the student". As one Committee member commented, "That limit was very difficult to respect." (Session of January 22, 1999).

In Bermuda, the government decided in June of 1996 to keep corporal punishment in its schools. It is thus permitted to give four strokes with a cane or strap. Vincent Fontana, an American pediatrician, strongly condemned this measure, adding that problems in school stem from family situations. The director of a private school, Sister Judith Rollo, agreed wholeheartedly and went so far as to say that it is the parents who should go to school to learn how to raise their children (Bermuda Sun, June 14th and 21st).

With regard to Cuba, the Committee found it difficult to share the official optimism of this nation's representatives, who declare that "corporal punishment in schools did not exist, was prohibited and had never been authorized," that "although violence within the family did not constitute a significant social problem in Cuba, prevention mechanisms and sanctions had been established for individual cases that might arise." Facing skepticism, the Cuban representative would only concede, "Although Cuban parents had of course sometimes been prosecuted for inflicting corporal punishment on their children, that was not a widespread problem." (Session of May 26, 1997). It would be nice to believe so.

In Grenada, an effort to ban school corporal punishment has run into opposition from churches and from parents. Corporal punishment is accepted in families, sometimes in extreme forms. "Corporal punishment had been eliminated in the draft Education Act, although the Act had not yet become law . . . there was considerable resistance from churches and from parents. The video 'Olivia's Plight' was used as a means of encouraging alternative sanctions. It showed that an abused child might become an adult abuser and that the approach of zero tolerance of violence against women must go hand in hand with the abolition of corporal punishment." (Session of February 28, 2000).

In Haiti, a survey by the Haitian Childhood Institute (IHE), the results of which were made public in February 2002, revealed that Haitians are still attached to corporal punishments. Nine out of ten adults consider it normal to spank children who will not obey. An association of jurists is preparing to begin a campaign to fight disciplinary violence.

In Jamaica, "the occurrence of child abuse and neglect within the family are [a matter] of concern." A debate over corporal punishment in the schools prompted an article in the January 30, 1997 edition of the Jamaica Gleaner, a Kingston newspaper, in which the author naively comes to the defense of school corporal punishment based on having endured it himself. He does not think that "a sore behind for a few days is likely to unhinge [schoolboys]." In his judgment, he has "no tendency to violence", and yet . . . he sees nothing wrong with "caning" children. As for the Committee on the Rights of the Child, it pointed out that it is not enough to ban the "excessive" punishment of children. "We might ask where the line is drawn between excessive and tolerable and what we would say to a law authorizing husbands to get violent with their wives, provided that the violence is not 'excessive.'"

In the Dominican Republic, "the physical, psychological and sexual abuse of children, adolescents and women constitutes a serious public health problem."

On Saint Kitts and Nevis, "the use of corporal punishment is still widespread," and the delegate acknowledged that "it was not going to disappear soon." More than half the population at least are in favor of corporal punishment.

In Trinidad and Tobago,  Committee member Mrs. Sardenberg "had been struck by the culture of violence in the country and by the prevalence of corporal punishment, domestic violence and criminality." The delegate "confirmed that no study had so far been made of the issue [of corporal punishment], as there was still no unanimous agreement, either nationally or regionally, as to whether the Convention took precedence over domestic law in that sphere, an issue which had both social and cultural implications." "The Ministry of Social Development was liaising with the Ministry of Education and had undertaken a number of initiatives at the community level to convey the message that corporal punishment was not in line with the principles of the Convention or modern child rearing practices. It was nonetheless difficult to change attitudes, particularly in the generation of parents aged between 60 and 70; government efforts alone would not suffice and greater involvement by civic and religious society was required." According to the September 30, 1999 edition of the Trinidad Express, a father forgave a teacher for whipping his son with a belt, illegally it would seem. The following day in the same newspaper, a teacher expressed what may well be the viewpoint of many of his colleagues: "Brutality against children is abhorrent but children intuitively understand human dynamics better than Machiavelli ever did, and sometimes -- not most or all of the time, but sometimes -- the ruler or the strap makes a necessary point much more efficiently than gentle persuasion could ever do." In the penal system, finally, flogging is an authorized method of discipline at prison facilities. "Male offenders no older than 16 years may be sentenced to flogging in place of any other sentence. The offender may receive up to six strokes if he is 12 years old or younger and up to 12 strokes if he is more than 12 years old. The penalty must be applied in a single occasion and within one month's time."

South America

For a great many children in Latin America, the family appears to be a high-risk environment. Such is the case in Bolivia, where maltreatment "[constitutes] a social phenomenon of considerable magnitude with serious consequences."  

In Ecuador, it is "culturally accepted and justified practice" which is "linked to a tradition of educational discipline" and whose practice might even be characterized, to use one Committee member's phrasing, as a "culture of child abuse in families."

In Peru, it is an "acceptable method of correction" and affects 60% of children according to some sociologists.

In Bolivia, the country which provided the most detailed report, the authors actually talk of  "adult xenophobia towards the new generations." Statistical tables show that 60% of Bolivian children are subjected to ill-treatment in their family, mainly from mothers (48%): strapping or belt-whipping: 18%; ear-pulling: 11%; hitting with sticks or stones: 6%; slapping: 6%; lashing with a hosepipe or rope: 5%; kicking: 5%; pinching: 4%; punching: 3%; knife attacks or other: 2% (Source: Under-Secretariat of Generational Affairs). "Most of those maltreated in the home (79 per cent) consider, however, that punishment is a good thing because it teaches them something, is intended for their betterment and makes them think, which strongly suggests that they themselves will similarly maltreat their own children when they grow up."

In Colombia, the incidence of abuse sends many children to life on the streets. At the urging of the Committee on the Rights of the Child, Colombia, Ecuador, and especially Bolivia have taken initiatives against corporal punishment.  

North America

North America has the sad distinction of including two of the three industrialized nations in the world that continue to have corporal punishment in its schools--the United States and Canada (the third would be Australia).

In Canada, if we go by the writings of Suanne Kelman in her book, All in the Family: A Cultural History of Family Life (Penguin, 1998), it was the early French missionaries who, having encountered tribes that never struck their children, did all they could to "correct this heretical gentleness." They apparently were successful, as a study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, (October 5, 1999) and looking at 4.888 people in Ontario between the ages of 15 and 64, found that 70 to 75% of Canadian parents spank their children. 41% of those interviewed said that they had been "rarely" hit or slapped, 34% "sometimes," 21% never, and 6% "often." But spanking is far more common in society than this survey shows, because children are hit the most between the age of eighteen months to four years old, in other words, too young for them to recall it as adults. According to Kenneth Goldberg, head of parent training and managing director of the Child and Family Center of Toronto, as well as a member of the national committee seeking the repeal of Section 43, "In Canada, children are the only citizens who do not enjoy security of person — a human right that women and convicted prisoners have come to enjoy." Physical punishment is in fact banned by the Civil Code. But the Canadian Criminal Code contains a section (Section 43), entered into the Penal Code in1892, which stipulates: "Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances." This section, which was once again declared constitutional in July 2000, has been used successfully to defend adults charged with mistreating children to the point of causing fractures, fist marks and bruises. The Canadian Federation of Teachers considers it necessary (a poll conducted in Ontario found moreover that 69% of teachers were in favor of spanking as a disciplinary measure - Canadian Journal of Education 1994). The U.N. has already recommended that Canada withdraw this section, and the Quebec Human Rights Commission formally requested the same in February 1999. Some school boards in the meantime have banned corporal punishment (26 boards out of 65 in Alberta, for instance, the Herald-Tribune reported on 3/21/2000). The founder of the Repeal 43 Committee, Corinne Robertshaw, points out that at least 10,000 cases of physical abuse occur each year in the state of Ontario alone and that nearly all of them begin with attempts at "correction" by means of "reasonable" corporal punishment. This salient remark illustrates, if there was any doubt, that it is folly to try to keep within "reasonable" limits a behavior that is, at its core, anything but reasonable! Curiously, the Child Management Policy of July 1993 formally prohibits use of corporal punishment in foster families, which is cause for rejoicing, but it would suggest that there is some kind of "right of blood" to hit one's children! In the month of June 2000, court justices again refused to outlaw spanking. They called on lawmakers to clarify Section 43 of the Criminal Code, cited above (Globe and Mail, Toronto, June 6, 2000).

In recent years, proponents of repealing Section 43 were hoping for things to change. But on January 30, 2004, the Supreme Court upheld by a vote of 6-3 the right of parents and educators to use force in correcting children. The only restrictions with respect to previous practices: such punishment can only be given to children above age two, and teens must also be spared to avoid their reacting with "aggressive or antisocial behavior"; face-slapping, blows to the head, and hitting with objects are prohibited. This decision, even if it reflects slight progress, could set back efforts toward an outright ban for several years to come.

In the United States, spanking is still practiced at schools in 22 of the 50 states, generally with a board 20" long, 3.5" wide and 3/4" thick. Some five- and six-year-old children are beaten with this implement so hard that they often are left with bruises on their buttocks. On the other hand, 28 states have banned this practice. The first state to outlaw school corporal punishment was New Jersey in 1867, followed more than a century later by Massachusetts, in 1971. Delaware is the latest state to have taken this step in April 2003. [NOTE: Since this book's writing, Pennsylvania (2005) and Ohio (2009, with exemption for private schools) have banned school corporal punishment, bringing the number of non-paddling states to 30. Updated information is available from the Center for Effective Discipline (] The pace of progress is increasing, but . . . slowly! The state of Mississippi tops the list when it comes to using corporal punishment. During the 1997 school year, 12.4% of students in Mississippi's public schools were spanked. Arkansas was the runner-up was, hitting 10.8% of its students. Next was Alabama with 6.3%. In total, about 2,500 students in were beaten each day in January 2000 in American schools. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, it is estimated that corporal punishment is administered between 1 and 2 millions times per year in the states where it is used. A new era is dawning, however, since the U.S. Department of Education reports that the number of students beaten has gone from 1.4 million en 1979-80 (around 3.5% of children) to 613,000 in 1989-90, to 470,000 in 1993-94, and finally to 365,000 (0.8% of children) during the 1997-1998 school year. This reduction stems in part from the fact that in many states which authorize corporal punishment, certain districts have banned it. And in the schools that authorize it, parents have the option of requesting that their children be exempt from this form of punishment. Corporal punishment is more common in elementary and middle schools than in high schools. It is used more extensively in rural schools than in cities. Black children (17% of the American student population) comprise 39% of students who have been beaten. Black American youths have twice as much chance of being paddled as their white peers. 6% of black students receive corporal punishment at school, compared to 3% of whites. During his [first] presidential campaign, George Bush promised a Teacher Protection Act that would give teachers immunity from legal action taken by parents over cases of corporal punishment received by their children. In terms of parental punishments, it was estimated in 1985 that more than 90% of children were being hit by their parents. Another study indicated that roughly 80 percent of American parents spank their children. [Murray] Straus, author of Beating the Devil Out of Them: Corporal Punishment in American Families headed up a survey of 1000 mothers with children aged 2-4 years.  73% of them reported having spanked their children for repeated disobedience. Parents and educators generally base their support for corporal punishment upon two powerful foundations: the Bible and personal experience. "That's how it was when I grew up, and that's how it's always been in our society," "If you act up or do something bad, you get a whipping." Fundamentalist Christian movements are particularly fond of this practice. In one Christian magazine appears an ad for a 22-inch-long nylon whip called "The Rod." The ad explains that its purpose is for punishing children and quotes a proverb from the Bible. It is manufactured by an Oklahoma couple.

But parents are not always cognizant of their own violence, as shown by the contradictions in certain surveys. Thus, in 1995, a slight majority of parents (55%) considered that it was "sometimes necessary" to spank a child, as opposed to 94% en 1968. But 94% of those surveyed reported having spanked their two- to five-year-olds in the past year. "The inconsistency between attitudes and prevalence rates is typical of the process of social change," the author of the study commented. American legal standards for determining whether physical punishment has crossed over into abuse are very lax. In theory, causing injury qualifies as abuse. But a woman who whipped her child with a belt was acquitted on the grounds that the child's condition did not require medical treatment.

These rather disheartening figures which reveal that the vast majority of young people in North America have been subjected to corporal punishment at home and/or at school, or been threatened with it, should not, however, keep us from seeing the gradual change that is coming about in the U.S. due to the cumulative effect of shifting public opinion, the growing number of lawsuits against school boards and teachers, and the growing number of legislative bans. In the 18 years between 1976 and 1994, 25 states have done away with corporal punishment. In those states that allow it, many school boards are deciding for themselves to ban it themselves. In 1996, there were two failed attempts to bring back corporal punishment: in the California General Assembly, a bill was defeated by 49 votes to 19; in the Jackson school district, Mississippi's largest, the board's vote was 3-2 against. In the state of Ohio, where corporal punishment is authorized, only 40 out of 612 school districts allow it, and even in those districts, the number of instances of corporal punishment continues to fall. Catholic schools, traditionally great believers in spanking, have pretty much eliminated it. In 1994, 469 delegates from the National Association of Elementary School Principals convened in Orlando, Florida voted unanimously to oppose corporal punishment, reckoning that it could increase violence in an already violent society. In the ten years between 1982 and 1992, the incidence of corporal punishment in public schools has gone from 1,415,540 to 555,531. In January 1999, a proposal to make Oakland a no-spanking zone was debated by the city council. Although the measure did not pass, the discussion was lively.

Jordan Riak, a tireless soldier in the fight against corporal punishment, wrote on July 1st, 2000, that if a cure for cancer were discovered in Europe, every American would know about it the same evening and would immediately demand to have access to it. Why, then, do they stubbornly and tragically refuse the non-violent raising of children, which is a surefire remedy to the cancer of violence?

Statistics compiled by a university research team studying American prisons found that 85% of jailed violent offenders were hit as children by those raising them. According to another U.S. federal study, commissioned following a series of school shootings, statistics show that states where physical punishment is regularly applied also have the highest rates of violence.

It also bears mentioning that in the U.S., a type of abuse seems to have found its way into the practice of medicine. It involves controlling children through the use of medication--namely, Ritalin. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, reveals that American children aged 2-3, restless as they normally are at that age, are being diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder) and treated accordingly: the number of children between age 2-4 who were treated with Ritalin tripled between 1991 and 1995, which does not seem to correspond to any rise in the number of cases of ADHD (Allaiter Aujourd'hui, issue no. 43).

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