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Main article: Punishment

Legality of school corporal punishment in the United States
Legality of corporal punishment in Europe

██ Corporal punishment prohibited in schools and the home ██ Corporal punishment prohibited in schools only ██ Corporal punishment not prohibited

Template:Corporal punishment Corporal punishment is a form of physical punishment that involves the deliberate infliction of pain as retribution for an offence, or for the purpose of disciplining or reforming a wrongdoer, or to deter attitudes or behaviour deemed unacceptable. The term usually refers to methodically striking the offender with an implement, whether in judicial, domestic, or educational settings.

Corporal punishment may be divided into three main types:

  • Parental or domestic corporal punishment: within the family—typically, children punished by parents or guardians;
  • School corporal punishment: within schools, when students are punished by teachers or school administrators, or, in the past, apprentices by master craftsmen;
  • Judicial corporal punishment: as part of a criminal sentence ordered by a court of law. Closely related is prison corporal punishment, ordered either directly by the prison authorities or by a visiting court.

Corporal punishment of minors within domestic settings is lawful in all 50 of the United States and, according to a 2000 survey, is widely approved by parents.[1] It has been officially outlawed in 29 countries.[2]

Corporal punishment in school is still legal in some parts of the world, including 20 of the States of the USA, but has been outlawed in other places, including Canada, Kenya, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand, and nearly all of Europe except the Czech Republic[3] and France.[4]

Judicial corporal punishment has virtually disappeared from the western world but remains in force in many parts of Africa and Asia.

History of corporal punishment

The practice was recorded as early as c. 10th Century BC in Book of Proverbs attributed to Solomon:

He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes.[5]
Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell.[6]

It was certainly present in classical civilisations, being used in Greece, Rome, and Egypt for both judicial and educational discipline.[7] Some states gained a reputation for using such punishments cruelly; Sparta, in particular, used them as part of a disciplinary regime designed to build willpower and physical strength.[8] Although the Spartan example was extreme, corporal punishment was possibly the most frequent type of punishment. In the Roman Empire, the maximum penalty that a Roman citizen could receive under the law was 40 "lashes" or "strokes" with a whip applied to the back and shoulders, or with the "fasces" (similar to a birch rod, but consisting of 8–10 lengths of willow rather than birch) applied to the buttocks. Such punishments could draw blood, and were frequently inflicted in public.

In Medieval Europe, corporal punishment was encouraged by the attitudes of the medieval church towards the human body, flagellation being a common means of self-discipline. This had an influence on the use of corporal punishment in schools, as educational establishments were closely attached to the church during this period. Nevertheless, corporal punishment was not used uncritically; as early as the eleventh century Saint Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury was speaking out against what he saw as the excessive use of corporal punishment in the treatment of children.[9]

From the 16th century onwards, new trends were seen in corporal punishment. Judicial punishments were increasingly turned into public spectacles, with public beatings of criminals intended as a deterrent to other would-be offenders. Meanwhile, early writers on education, such as Roger Ascham, complained of the arbitrary manner in which children were punished.[10] Perhaps the most influential writer on the subject was the English philosopher John Locke, whose Some Thoughts Concerning Education explicitly criticised the central role of corporal punishment in education. Locke's work was highly influential, and may have helped influence Polish legislators to ban corporal punishment from Poland's schools in 1783.[11]

During the 18th century, the concept of corporal punishment was attacked by some philosophers and legal reformers. Merely inflicting pain on miscreants was seen as inefficient, influencing the subject only for a short period of time and effecting no permanent change in their behaviour. Some believed that the purpose of punishment should be reformation, not retribution. This is perhaps best expressed in Jeremy Bentham's idea of a panoptic prison, in which prisoners were controlled and surveyed at all times, perceived to be advantageous in that this system supposedly reduced the need of measures such as corporal punishment.[12]

A consequence of this mode of thinking was a reduction in the use of corporal punishment in the 19th century in Europe and North America. In some countries this was encouraged by scandals involving individuals seriously hurt during acts of corporal punishment. For instance, in Britain, popular opposition to punishment was encouraged by two significant cases, the death of Private Frederick John White, who died after a military flogging in 1846,[13] and the death of Reginald Cancellor, who was killed by his schoolmaster in 1860.[14] Events such as these mobilised public opinion, and in response, many countries introduced thorough regulation of the infliction of corporal punishment in state institutions such as schools, prisons and reformatories.

In the 1870s, courts in the United States overruled the common-law principle that a husband had the right to "physically chastise an errant wife".[15] In the UK the traditional right of a husband to inflict moderate corporal punishment on his wife in order to keep her "within the bounds of duty" was similarly removed in 1891.[16][17] See Domestic violence for more information.

In the United Kingdom, the use of judicial corporal punishment declined during the first half of the 20th century and it was abolished altogether in 1948, while most other European countries had abolished it earlier. Meanwhile in many schools, the use of the cane, paddle or tawse remained commonplace in the UK and the United States until the 1980s. In several other countries, it still is: see School corporal punishment.

Modern use

Corporal punishment in the home

Main article: Corporal punishment in the home

Domestic corporal punishment, i.e. of children and teenagers by their parents, is usually referred to colloquially as "spanking", "whipping", "smacking," or "slapping." One possible method of spanking is to have the child or teenager lying, stomach down, across the parent's lap, with the parent bringing their open hand down upon the child's buttocks. Alternatively, the youngster might be told to bend over, or lie face down across a bed.[18] Spankings may be delivered over the trousers, over the undergarments, or upon the bare buttocks.[19]

In an increasing number of countries it has been outlawed, starting with Sweden in 1979.[2] In some other countries, corporal punishment is legal, but restricted (e.g. blows to the head are outlawed and implements may not be used, and/or only children within a certain age range may be spanked).

In the United States and all African and most Asian nations, "spanking," "whipping," "smacking," or "slapping" by parents is currently legal; it is also legal to use certain implements such as a belt or paddle.

In Canada, spanking by parents or legal guardians (but nobody else) is legal, as long as the child is not under 2 years or over 12 years of age, and no implement other than an open, bare hand is used (belts, paddles, etc. are strictly prohibited). Provinces can legally impose tighter restrictions than the aforementioned national restrictions, but none currently does so.

In the UK, spanking or smacking is legal, but it may not leave a mark on the body and in Scotland since October 2003 it has been illegal to use any implements when disciplining a child.

In Pakistan, Section 89 of Pakistan Penal Code allows corporal punishment. The Government of Pakistan has yet to repeal this law.[20]

Corporal punishment in schools

Main article: School corporal punishment

Legal corporal punishment of school students for misbehaviour involves striking the student on the buttocks or the palm of the hand in a premeditated ceremony with an implement specially kept for the purpose such as a rattan cane or spanking paddle, or with the open hand.

Judicial or quasi-judicial punishment

Main article: Judicial corporal punishment
File:Map of judicial corporal punishment.svg

██ Countries with judicial corporal punishment

Some countries retain judicial corporal punishment, including a number of former British territories such as Botswana, Malaysia, Singapore and Tanzania. In Malaysia and Singapore, for certain specified offences, males are routinely sentenced to caning in addition to a prison term. The Singaporean practice of caning became much discussed around the world in 1994 when American teenager Michael P. Fay was caned for vandalism.

A number of countries with an Islamic legal system, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan and northern Nigeria, employ judicial whipping for a range of offences. As of 2009Template:Dated maintenance category, some regions of Pakistan are experiencing a breakdown of law and government, leading to a reintroduction of corporal punishment by ad hoc Islamicist courts.[21] As well as corporal punishment, some Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran use other kinds of physical penalties such as amputation or mutilation.[22][23][24] However, the term "corporal punishment" has since the 19th century usually meant caning, flogging or whipping rather than those other types of physical penalty.[25][26][27][28][29][30][31]

Pros and cons of corporal punishment

Main article: Corporal punishment in the home#Differing views about parental spanking
See also: Campaigns against corporal punishment

According to its proponents, corporal punishment offers several advantages over other kinds of punishment, such as that it is quicker to implement, costs nothing, and deters unruliness.[32][33]

The American Psychological Association opposes the use of corporal punishment in schools, juvenile facilities, child care nurseries, and all other institutions, public or private, where children are cared for or educated. It claims that corporal punishment is violent and unnecessary, may lower self-esteem, and is liable to instil hostility and rage without reducing the undesired behaviour. The APA also states that corporal punishment is likely to train children to use physical violence.[34]

The professor of philosophy, David Benatar, points out that using this last argument, fining people also teaches that forcing others to give up some of their property is an acceptable response to unwanted behaviour in others. "Why don't detentions, imprisonments, fines, and a multitude of other punishments convey equally undesirable messages?" According to Benatar, the key difference lies in the legitimacy of the authority administering the punishment: "[T]here is all the difference in the world between legitimate authorities—the judiciary, parents, or teachers—using punitive powers responsibly to punish wrongdoing, and children or private citizens going around beating each other, locking each other up, and extracting financial tributes (such as lunch money). There is a vast moral difference here and there is no reason why children should not learn about it. Punishing children when they do wrong seems to be one important way of doing this."[35]

Kay Hymowitz in her book, Who Killed Discipline in School? states, "Ask Americans what worries them most about public schools and the answer might surprise you; discipline. For several decades now, poll after poll shows it topping the list of parents' concerns. Hymowitz says that, "the public's sense that something has gone drastically wrong with school discipline isn't mistaken. Over the past thirty years or so, the courts and federal government have hacked away at the power of educators to maintain a safe and civil school environment."[36]

Anatomical target

Different parts of the anatomy may be targeted:

  • The buttocks, whether clothed or bare, have often been targeted for punishment, particularly in Europe and the English-speaking world.[28] Indeed, some languages have a specific word for their chastisement: spanking in English, fessée in French, nalgada in Spanish (both Romanesque words directly derived from the word for buttock). The advantage is that these fleshy body parts are robust and can be chastised accurately, without endangering any bodily functions; they heal well and relatively quickly; in some cultures punishment applied to the buttocks entails a degree of humiliation, which may or may not be intended as part of the punishment.
  • Chastising the back of the thighs and calves, as sometimes in South Korean schools, is at least as painful if not more so, but this can cause more damage in terms of scars and bruising.
  • The upper back and the shoulders have historically been a target for whipping, e.g. in the UK with the cat-o'-nine-tails in the Royal Navy and in some pre-1948 judicial punishments, and also today generally in the Middle East and the Islamic world.
  • The head is a very dangerous place to hit, especially "boxing the ears".
  • The hand is very sensitive and delicate, and use of an implement could cause excessive damage.[37]
  • The soles of the feet are extremely sensitive, and flogging them (falaka), as has been sometimes done in the Middle East, is excruciating.

Ritual and punishment

Template:Ref improve section Corporal punishment in official settings, such as schools and prisons, has typically been carried out as a formal ceremony, with a standard procedure, emphasising the solemnity of the occasion. It may even be staged in a ritual manner in front of other students/inmates, in order to act as a deterrent to others.

In the case of prison or judicial punishments, formal punishment might begin with the offender stripped of some or all of their clothing and secured to a piece of furniture, such as a trestle or frame,[38][39] (X-cross), punishment horse or falaka. In some cases the nature of the offence is read out and the sentence (consisting of a predetermined number of strokes) is formally imposed. A variety of implements may be used to inflict blows on the offender. The terms used to describe these are not fixed, varying by country and by context. There are, however, a number of common types that are encountered when reading about corporal punishment. These include:

  • The rod. A thin, flexible rod is often called a switch.
  • The birch, a number of strong, flexible branches of birch or similar wood, bound together with twine into a single implement.
  • The rattan cane (not bamboo as it is often wrongly described). Much favoured in the British Commonwealth for both school and judicial use.
  • The paddle, a flat wooden board with a handle, with or without holes. Used in US schools.
  • The strap. A leather strap with a number of tails at one end, called a tawse, was used in schools in Scotland and some parts of northern England.
  • The whip, typically of leather. Varieties include the Russian knout and South African sjambok, in addition to the scourge and the French martinet.
  • The cat o' nine tails was used in British naval discipline and as a judicial and prison punishment.
  • The hairbrush and belt were traditionally used in the United States and Britain as an implement for domestic spanking.
  • The plimsoll or gym shoe, used in British and Commonwealth schools, often called "the slipper". See Slippering (punishment).
  • The ferula, in Jesuit schools, as vividly described in a scene in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

In some instances the offender is required to prepare the implement himself. For instance, sailors were employed in preparing the cat o' nine tails that would be used upon their own back, while school students were sometimes sent out to cut a switch or rod.

In contrast, informal punishments, particularly in domestic settings, tend to lack this ritual nature and are often administered with whatever object comes to hand. It is common, for instance, for belts, wooden spoons, slippers, hairbrushes or coathangers to be used in domestic punishment, while rulers and other classroom equipment have been used in schools.

In parts of England, boys were once beaten under the old tradition of "Beating the Bounds" whereby a boy was paraded around the edge of a city or parish and would be spanked with a switch or cane to mark the boundary.[40] One famous "Beating the Bounds" took place around the boundary of St Giles and the area where Tottenham Court Road now stands in central London. The actual stone that separated the boundary is now underneath the Centre Point office tower.[41]

Corporal punishment, paraphilia and fetishism

The German psychologist Richard von Krafft-Ebing suggested that a tendency to sadism and masochism may develop out of the experience of children receiving corporal punishment at school.[42] But this was disputed by Sigmund Freud, who found that, where there was a sexual interest in beating or being beaten, it developed in early childhood, and rarely related to actual experiences of punishment.[43]

See also


  1. Reaves, Jessica. "Survey Gives Children Something to Cry About", Time, New York, 5 October 2000.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children (GITEACPOC).
  3. Czech Republic State Report, GITEACPOC, February 2008.
  4. France State Report, GITEACPOC, February 2008.
  5. Proverbs 13:24
  6. Proverbs 23:13–14
  7. McCole Wilson, Robert. A Study of Attitudes Towards Corporal Punishment as an Educational Procedure From the Earliest Times to the Present, Nijmegen University, 1999, 2.3 to 2.6.
  8. McCole Wilson, 2.5.
  9. Wicksteed, Joseph H. The Challenge of Childhood: An Essay on Nature and Education, Chapman & Hall, London, 1936, pp. 34–35. OCLC 3085780
  10. Ascham, Roger. The scholemaster, John Daye, London, 1571, p. 1. Republished by Constable, London, 1927. OCLC 10463182
  11. Newell, Peter (ed.). A Last Resort? Corporal Punishment in Schools, Penguin, London, 1972, p. 9. ISBN 0-14-080698-9
  12. Bentham, Jeremy. Chrestomathia (Martin J. Smith and Wyndham H. Burston, eds.), Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1983, pp. 34, 106. ISBN 0-19-822610-1
  13. The History of The 7th Queen’s Own Hussars Vol. II, by C.R.B. Barretts
  14. Middleton. J. "Thomas Hopley and mid-Victorian attitudes to corporal punishment". History of Education 2005.
  15. Calvert, R. "Criminal and civil liability in husband-wife assaults", in Violence in the family (Suzanne K. Steinmetz and Murray A. Straus, eds.), Harper & Row, New York, 1974. ISBN 0-396-06864-2
  16. R. v Jackson, [1891] 1 QB 671, abstracted at
  17. "Corporal punishment", Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, 1911.
  18. Spank with Love: Spanking positions.
  19. Spank with Love: Spanking techniques – Bare bottom or not?.
  20. Mazhar Siraj (2010). Culture as a Factor in the Translation of International Human Rights Law into Local Justice: Evidence from Corporal Punishment of Pakistan. Web Journal of Current Legal Issues (4).
  21. Walsh, Declan. "Video of girl's flogging as Taliban hand out justice", The Guardian, London, 2 April 2009.
  22. Campaign against the Arms Trade, Evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, London, January 2005.
  23. "Lashing Justice", Editorial, New York Times, 3 December 2007.
  24. "Saudi Arabia: Court Orders Eye to Be Gouged Out", Human Rights Watch, 8 December 2005.
  25. Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989, "corporal punishment: punishment inflicted on the body; originally including death, mutilation, branding, bodily confinement, irons, the pillory, etc. (as opposed to a fine or punishment in estate or rank). In 19th c. usually confined to flogging or similar infliction of bodily pain."
  26. "Physical punishment such as caning or flogging" – Concise Oxford Dictionary.
  27. "... inflicted on the body, esp. by beating." – Oxford American Dictionary of Current English.
  28. 28.0 28.1 "mostly a euphemism for the enforcement of discipline by applying canes, whips or birches to the buttocks." – Charles Arnold-Baker, The Companion to British History, Routledge, 2001.
  29. "Physical punishment such as beating or caning" – Chambers 21st Century Dictionary.
  30. "Punishment of a physical nature, such as caning, flogging, or beating." – Collins English Dictionary.
  31. "the striking of somebody's body as punishment" – Encarta World English Dictionary, MSN. Archived 2009-10-31.
  32. Vorhaus, John. "A fair price to pay", The Guardian, London, 14 March 1998.
  33. "Major panics on punishment" (Editorial), The Daily Telegraph, London, 30 October 1996.
  34. Resolution on Corporal Punishment, American Psychological Association, 1975.
  35. Benatar, David. Corporal punishment, Social Theory and Practice, vol.24 no.2, 1998.
  36. Hymowitz, Kay. "Fixing Public Education? Start With Discipline," City Journal, 16 July 2010.
  37. "Corporal Punishment to Children's Hands", A Statement by Medical Authorities as to the Risks, January 2002.
  38. See for instance Photograph of a public flogging in Iran (2007).
  39. See Pictures of trestle used for judicial caning in Singapore
  40. "Mayor may axe child spanking rite", BBC News Online, 21 September 2004.
  41. Ackroyd, Peter. London: The biography, Chatto & Windus, London, 2000. ISBN 1-85619-716-6
  42. von Krafft-Ebing, Richard. Psychopathia Sexualis, F.A. Davis Co., London & Philadelphia, 1892. Republished 1978 by Stein & Day, New York: ISBN 0-8128-6011-X
  43. Freud, Sigmund. "A child is being beaten", International Journal of Psychoanalysis 1919; 1:371.

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