Ending Corporal Punishment

Across the world, more than 2 in 3 children experience corporal – or violent – discipline at the hands of those meant to love them most: their caregivers. This form of violence is the most common type experienced by children, with many more experiencing violent discipline in the classroom. In fact, 88 per cent of the world’s children are not protected from corporal punishment by law, and 600 million children under the age of 5 live in countries where corporal punishment is legal in their homes.

Aside from the pain and humiliation corporal punishment can cause, the violent discipline also impacts children’s long-term health and well-being, causing a ripple effect for decades to come. Definitions – and perceptions – of physical violence against children vary from location to location, culture to culture, and from family to family. Even so, intentionally harming a child is never okay, and has the potential to affect a child for the rest of their lives.

Since 2001, the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children (GI) has worked to end corporal punishment, advocating for full and comprehensive law reform to prohibit violent discipline, raise awareness about the issue, and monitor law throughout the globe. In September 2020, the GI, an active member of the End Violence CSO Forum, will close as a civil society organization. End Violence will adopt key elements of the GI and take over the organisation's website, allowing for the continuation of their essential advocacy work to ensure all children are protected from violent discipline.

Only 12 per cent of children are fully protected from corporal punishment – by law – across the world. This fact is particularly devastating when coupled with the long-lasting effects violent discipline can have both physically and emotionally. Violence in the classroom, for example, can affect children’s academic achievement, sometimes leading them to miss class or drop out of school entirely. Children who experience corporal punishment may also have difficulty with peer relationships and increase disruptive, violent or antisocial behaviours.

In addition, corporal punishment often affects those who are already vulnerable: children with disabilities, for example, are disproportionality subjected to violent discipline. In the United States, the Department of Education reported that although students with disabilities constitute 13.7 per cent of all public school students, they make up 18.8 per cent of those who are subjected to corporal punishment.

Causing physical pain to a child is itself a breach of children’s right to protection from assault – and adults often don’t appreciate the difference in size and strength between them and a child, and the impact that this difference can have on the intended and actual physical pain felt by the child. Large scale research in which parents have been asked about the force used when “smacking” their child found that two in five had used a different degree of force than intended.

In addition, adults often do not appreciate the emotional hurt caused by corporal punishment, its impact on the dignity of the child, and the potential short- and long-term damage this can have on individuals and society. Study after study has shown corporal punishment leads to a wide range of negative health, developmental and behavioural outcomes for children that can follow them into adulthood, including poor mental health, poor cognitive development, lower school grades, increased aggression, poor moral regulation and increased antisocial behaviour.

As the smallest and most vulnerable members of society, children deserve more, not less, protection from assault.

Though corporal punishment remains a pervasive challenge, things have improved significantly over the past few decades: while only four countries had prohibited corporal punishment against children in 1989, as of August 2020, 60 states have issued bans of their own.

The primary purpose of legal prohibition is educative – providing a clear statement that any level or form of corporal punishment is no longer acceptable – rather than punitive. Prohibiting corporal punishment is about ensuring children are equally protected under the law on assault – whoever the perpetrator and whether or not the assault is inflicted as “discipline” or punishment.

By adopting the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children (GI), End Violence will continue the organisation’s work to:

Maintain an extensive resource bank of all things related to corporal punishment

End Violence will maintain and curating GI’s website, which contains two decades’ worth of essential, multi- lingual resources on corporal punishment and its prohibition. On this website, you can explore progress and challenges nationally, regionally or worldwide, along with materials on law reform, implementation and positive discipline. The website is available in seven languages, including English, Arabic, French, Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Russian and Portuguese.

Provide technical support for governments and civil society actors pushing prohibition forward

End Violence is expanding its scope to provide legal support to national actors working to end corporal punishment. The Partnership is now supporting countries with legal assessments, drafting legislation and strategy development for law reform, advocacy and campaigns to transform attitudes and practices around violence in raising and educating children. In addition, we are providing remote advice by organizing national workshops to share information and resources.

Advocate to ensure the prohibition of corporal punishment remains on the global agenda

Through End Violence’s work with Pathfinding Countries, the Partnership is pushing for the prohibition of violent discipline at the national level. This includes ensuring that governments are aware of their obligation to protect children from corporal punishment, and increasing awareness of the issue through our digital audiences.

A child with his father.