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Corporal Punishment: Harsh Parenting or Violation of Children’s Rights?

Source: Pixabay.

There is an old Serbian proverb which I took the liberty of roughly translating myself:

"The beating stick comes from Heaven.”

With an assumption that my readers are rational, open-minded people, I believe I do not need to highlight how damaging said statement is, since it very blatantly glamorizes pain and celebrates a complete regression of what I would characterize as “normal parenting in the 21st century.”

Put very simply, corporal punishment represents the use of force and pain, both on adults and children. Throughout history, beatings, floggings, and even mutilations have been regularly used, and regulated by law, from Hammurabi’s “an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth” to Jesus’ crucifixion described in the New Testament. Hunter-gatherer societies were not accustomed to the use of physical punishment, but with the introduction of possession and property, alongside the steady development of our civilization, beatings became a standard punishment for damaging one’s property. The Bible itself not only justifies but encourages the infliction of pain, especially on children:

“He that spareth the rod, hateth his son; but he that loveth him, chasteneth him betimes.” (Proverbs 13:24)

“Chasten thy son while there is hope, and let not thy soul spare for his crying.” (Proverbs 19:18)

Believers have been guided by these verses for more than a thousand years, completely disregarding Jesus’ (alleged) teachings on forgiveness and placidity. Only in the last few centuries have these words started being disputed by intellectuals. During the Middle Ages, since educational establishments were closely tied to the Church, corporal punishment performed by teachers was a part of the everyday life of pupils. With the age of Modernity, new trends came in physical punishment, where beatings would turn into public events, dehumanizing and shaming criminals. Children were not better off either. They would be punished in front of their entire class, or sometimes even in public squares, which would consequently humiliate not only the child but families as well. Such harsh practices served as debate material for many philosophers of the Enlightenment period, such as John Locke, who wrote an entire treatise on education: “Some Thoughts Concerning Education”, published in 1693, where he fiercely criticized corporal punishment: “Beating, and all other sorts of slavish and corporal punishments, are not the discipline fit to be used in the education of those we would have wise, good, and ingenuious men.” With his undeniable influence, Locke served as a trailblazer in the still ongoing fight against the unjust use of force on children.

Today, corporal punishment is legal and in use in an astounding number of countries, despite countless treaties and legislation. Probably the most well-known legal act protecting the rights of children, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is signed by almost all members of the UN (apart from the US…), and yet, only 66 countries have fully banned corporal punishment of children, most of them in Europe and Latin America. The effectiveness of these bans is, unfortunately, disputable.

The first country to fully ban corporal punishment in schools was Poland, as early as 1783, whose legislators were heavily influenced by Enlightenment thinkers. This has opened the doors to a myriad of amendments and complete scrapings of laws, until finally, in 1979, Sweden became the first country to fully prohibit corporal punishment of children, not only in schools but also at home.

"Children are entitled to care, security and a good upbringing. Children are to be treated with respect for their person and individuality and may not be subjected to corporal punishment or any other humiliating treatment." - Swedish Parental Code

Although many European countries have since adopted similar legislation, the success story of Sweden has been highly disputed. A 2009 study, The Effect of Banning Corporal Punishment in Europe: A Five-Nation Comparison, conducted by Prof. Dr. Kai-D. Bussmann, Dipl. Soz. Claudia Erthal, and Dipl. Soz. Andreas Schroth of the Martin-Luther-Universität Halle-Wittenberg in Germany, paints a clear picture of how much mentality plays a role when it comes to “appropriate parenting”. A nonviolent parental sentiment, that has been present in the Swedish society since the 1960s, clearly influences the success of these laws, which have been promoted even after their passing. At the time of this study, both Spain and France were yet to prohibit corporal punishment, which can clearly be seen in the graph. France has seen disputes of this ban, even today, three years after its passing.

Source: here.

Source: here.

Seemingly, Europe has been at the forefront of the struggle against physical punishment. The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly has adopted the Recommendation 1666 (2004), calling for a Europe-wide ban on corporal punishment of children. With this being said, it is to be noted that most countries which still implement corporal punishment for adults are former British and French colonies.

While all legal obstacles at hand play a vital role when discussing corporal punishment, I believe it is important for me to take a step back, and necessarily point out how detrimental corporal punishment actually is.

According to WHO: “Corporal punishment is linked to a range of negative outcomes for children across countries and cultures, including physical and mental ill-health, impaired cognitive and socio-emotional development, poor educational outcomes, increased aggression and perpetration of violence.” More than 60% of children, aged 2-14, regularly get physically punished. There are absolutely zero long term benefits of corporal punishment, and with so many drawbacks, it is disheartening to see it being implemented to this day. Its usage only showcases the lack of self-control and emotional maturity of the parents in question.

The Council of Europe has taken action and introduced policies that enforce “positive parenting”, which is based on nurture, recognition, empowerment, and leads to a non-violent upbringing. It mainly focuses on respecting children’s rights, while still using discipline to enable the full development of the child, by setting boundaries and nourishing both respect and love.

The domino effect of corporal punishment is still evident in our society and it will take decades to offset all the hurt and pain we have inflicted upon ourselves. Education, like in most other dilemmas, is the key, and I hope my article has made an impact on you, dear reader.

“One generation full of deeply loving parents would change the brain of the next generation, and with that, the world”-Dr. Charles Raison

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