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Legality of corporal punishment in the United States
Legality of corporal punishment in Europe (and Turkey)

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

Domestic corporal punishment (also referred to as corporal punishment in the home or parental corporal punishment) is an aspect of both child rearing practices and punishment. It typically involves the corporal punishment of a child by a parent or guardian in the home—normally the spanking or slapping of a child with the parent's open hand, but occasionally with an implement such as a belt, slipper, cane or paddle.

In many cultures, parents have historically been regarded as having the duty of disciplining their children, and the right to spank them when appropriate. However, attitudes in many countries changed in the 1950s and 60s following the publication by pediatrician Dr Spock of Baby and Child Care in 1946, which advised parents to treat children as individuals, whereas the previous conventional wisdom had been that child rearing should focus on building discipline, and that, e.g., babies should not be "spoiled" by picking them up when they cried. The change in attitude was followed by legislation. Since 1979, 29 countries around the world (at 2010) have outlawed domestic corporal punishment of children.[1] In Europe, 22 countries have banned the practice. And in many other places the practice is considered controversial.

In Africa, the Middle East, and in most parts of Eastern Asia (including China, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea), corporal punishment of one's own children is lawful. In Singapore and Hong Kong, punishing one's own child with corporal punishment is legal but not particularly encouraged.[2] Culturally, many people in the region believe a certain amount of corporal punishment for their own children is appropriate and necessary, and thus such practice is accepted by society as a whole.

Where corporal punishment in the home is outlawed

Corporal punishment of children by parents, is unlawful in the following countries[1] -

  • Austria - since 1989
  • Bulgaria - since 2000
  • Croatia - since 1999
  • Costa Rica - since 2008
  • Cyprus - since 1994
  • Denmark - since 1997
  • Finland - since 1983
  • Germany - since 2000
  • Greece - since 2007
  • Hungary - since 2004
  • Iceland - since 2003
  • Israel - since 2000
  • Kenya - since 2010
  • Latvia - since 1998
  • Luxembourg - since 2008
  • Moldova - since 2009
  • Netherlands - since 2007
  • New Zealand - since 2007, when the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 came into effect; however, a non-binding citizen-initiated referendum on corporal punishment in August 2009 produced a large majority against the ban. A private member's bill was then introduced to Parliament to overturn the ban, but it failed at first reading: see New Zealand corporal punishment referendum, 2009.
  • Norway - since 1987 [3](The Supreme court ruled in 2005 that a light "careful slap" applied immediately after the "offence" is still allowed.[4] Legislature abolished this in 2010, and the current law is that any violence against children, including careful slaps, is prohibited.[5])
  • Poland - since 2010
  • Portugal - since 2007
  • Romania - since 2004
  • Sweden - Parents' right to spank their own children was first removed in 1966,[6] and it was explicitly prohibited by law from July 1979.
  • Spain - since 2007
  • Tunisia - since 2010 [7]
  • Ukraine - since 2004
  • Uruguay - since 2007
  • Venezuela - since 2007

The penalties vary by country. In Sweden, for example, corporal punishment does not necessarily carry a criminal penalty unless it meets the criteria for assault.[6]

In Brazil, a law banning corporal punishment is being considered.[8]

Where corporal punishment in the home is lawful


In Australia, corporal punishment of children in the home is legal in every state and territory,[9][10] provided it is "reasonable". Parents who act unreasonably may be committing an assault.[11][12] The Australian state of Tasmania is continuing to review the state's laws on the matter, and may seek to ban the use of corporal punishment by parents. The matter is also under review in other Australian states. A 2002 public opinion survey suggested the majority view was in support of retaining parents' right to smack with the open hand but not with an implement,[13] although as of 2010, there are no laws against using an implement.


In Canada, parents may spank their children, but there are several restrictions.

In Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law v. Canada (2004) the Supreme Court upheld, in a 6-3 decision, the use of "reasonable" force to discipline children, rejecting claims that moderate spanking violated children's rights. However, it stipulated that the person administering the punishment must be a parent or legal guardian, and not a school teacher or other person (i.e. non-parental relatives such as grandparents, aunts, or uncles, as well as babysitters and other caretakers, are banned from spanking); that the force must be used "by way of correction" (sober, reasoned uses of force that address the actual behaviour of the child and are designed to restrain, control or express some symbolic disapproval of his or her behaviour), that the child must be capable of benefiting from the correction (i.e. not under the age of 2 or over 12, etc.), and that the use of force must be "reasonable under the circumstances", meaning that it results neither in harm nor in the prospect of bodily harm. Punishment involving slaps or blows to the head is harmful, the Court held.[14] Use of any implement other than a bare hand is illegal. Provinces also legally have the authority to enact complete bans, although none currently does so.[citation needed]

United Kingdom

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. The total abolition of corporal punishment has been discussed.[15] In a 2004 survey, 71% of the population would support a ban on parents smacking their children.[16] In a 2006 survey, 80% of the population said they believed in smacking, and 73% said that they believed that any ban would cause a sharp deterioration in children's behaviour. Seven out of ten parents said they themselves use corporal punishment.[17]

United States

Despite some opposition to corporal punishment in the United States, the spanking of children is legal in all states.[18] Bans have been proposed in Massachusetts[19] and California[20][21] on all corporal punishment of children, including by parents, but these moves were heavily defeated.[22]

The legality of corporal punishment in the US is typically established by the making of special exceptions in the state's law on the crimes of assault, criminal battery, domestic violence and/or child abuse. These laws usually establish that no crime has been committed when certain actions are applied to a minor by that child's parent or legal caregiver. However, the language is often vague. The line between permitted corporal punishment and what is legally defined as abuse varies by state and is not always clear (laws typically allow "reasonable force" and "non-excessive corporal punishment"). For example, two different articles of the Minnesota Legislature allow parents and teachers to use corporal punishment as a form of discipline by creating explicit exceptions to the state's child abuse statutes for "reasonable and moderate physical discipline."[23][24] Also, in 2008 the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled that spanking a child is legal and does not constitute abuse. The ruling stated that "We are unwilling to establish a bright-line rule that the infliction of any pain constitutes either physical injury or physical abuse, because to do so would effectively prohibit all corporal punishment of children by their parents" and "it is clear to us that the Legislature did not intend to ban corporal punishment". The case involved a man who had spanked his 12-year-old son 36 times with a maple paddle and who was declared innocent by the Minnesota Supreme Court.[25]

There can be consequences for using corporal punishment that operate outside of the judicial system. These typically take the form of health department regulations, including Child Protective Services and rules on Mandated reporting. In the case of the latter, certain visible injuries along with reports by a child can trigger a mandatory report of child abuse to the local CPS or equivalent agency. Such agencies operate on definitions of child abuse provided by the state's health department (which are often very different from the exceptions provided in the criminal code) and have the power to investigate cases with their own agents, such as social workers. If the agency determines abuse has occurred, some actions can be taken immediately without the involvement of the police or the courts. These can include warning the parent, referring the parent to counseling, flagging the parent's name in the agency database [26] or even immediate removal of the child or children from the parent's home.[27] If corporal punishment causes the death of a child, the person who administered the punishment may be arrested and charged with murder. For example, Larry and Constance Slack were arrested in 2001 and later convicted of murdering their 12-year-old daughter, Laree Slack. And in February 2010, Kevin and Elizabeth Schatz were arrested and charged with murdering their seven-year-old daughter.[28]

Race, gender, and social class appear to be a significant factor in U.S. domestic corporal punishment. Black families are more in favor of it on average than white ones.[29] Boys are more likely than girls to be spanked at home,[30] and corporal punishment of boys tends to be more severe and more aggressive than that of girls[31] despite some research suggesting that corporal punishment is more counterproductive for boys than girls.[32] Middle-class parents tend to administer corporal punishment in greater numbers than their counterparts above them on the socioeconomic scale; however, lower-class parents tend to do so with greater frequency.[33]

Effectiveness of corporal punishment

Opinions are divided on whether spanking is helpful or harmful to a child's behavior. Public attitudes towards the acceptability and effectiveness of spanking vary a great deal by nation and region. For example in the United States and United Kingdom, social acceptance of spanking children maintains a majority position, from approximately 61% to 80%.[34][35] In Sweden, before the 1979 ban, more than half of the population considered corporal punishment a necessary part of child rearing. By 1996 the rate was 11%,[36] and less than 34% considered it acceptable in a national survey.[37]

On the other hand, many scientific researchers and child welfare organizations oppose it. Some studies have suggested that it does not benefit the child, and can encourage problems like anxiety, alcohol abuse, or dependence and externalizing problems.[38] Various other problems have also been claimed.[39]

Some researchers have been critical of these studies as scientifically unsound and have pointed out methodological flaws in how they were conducted, as well as the conclusions drawn.[40][41] However, a longitudinal study by Tulane University in 2010 controlled for a wide variety of confounding variables previously noted and still found negative outcomes in such children.[42] According to the study's leader, Catherine Taylor, this suggests that "it's not just that children who are more aggressive are more likely to be spanked."[43]

Differing views about parental spanking

A 1996 literature review by Robert Larzelere suggested that, in some circumstances, corporal punishment of children can increase short-term compliance with parental commands. Examples of such circumstances noted by Larzelere are that no implements should be used, that the child is between ages 2 and 6, that the punishment be carried out in private, and that it should occur less than once per week. However, comparisons in the same study with alternative punishments such as one-minute time-outs did not establish that corporal punishment was more effective. This paper also did not measure long term outcomes.[44]

Clinical and developmental psychologist Diana Baumrind has studied the effects of different parenting styles[45][46] and has expressed the opinion that mild spanking with the empty, open hand, in the context of an authoritative (not authoritarian) parenting style, is unlikely to have a significant detrimental effect, if one is careful to control for other variables such as socioeconomic status. She observes that previous studies demonstrating a correlation between corporal punishment and bad outcomes failed to control for these variables.[47] She has also cautioned that neither the pro-spanking nor anti-spanking studies is truly scientific, in the sense that physics or chemistry experiments are scientific, as they cannot be modeled or reproduced by other researchers, there are too many disparate factors that might influence the results, and the studies are often heavily biased toward producing a result that affirms the researcher's personal beliefs.[48]

A 1996 study by Straus suggested that children who receive corporal punishment are more likely to be angry as adults, use spanking as a form of discipline, approve of striking a spouse, and experience marital discord.[49] According to Cohen's 1996 study, older children who receive corporal punishment may resort to more physical aggression, substance abuse, crime and violence.[50] However, it is not always clear what these studies define as "corporal punishment".

A 1997 study by Straus, Sugarman and Giles-Sims[51] found detrimental child outcomes of nonabusive or customary physical punishment by parents using a design that would not also tend to find detrimental outcomes of most alternative discipline responses. Its findings were criticised by Larzelere,[52] who affirmed that the new study did not contradict his earlier study, the conclusions of which were summarized by Baumrind as "a blanket injunction against spanking is not scientifically supportable".[53] Larzelere granted that frequent and severe corporal punishment carried with it an increased risk for detrimental effects, but saw no proof that an occasional swat could harm a child in the long run.[52]

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) in an official policy statement[54] (reaffirmed in 2004) states that "Corporal punishment is of limited effectiveness and has potentially deleterious side effects." The AAP recommends that parents be "encouraged and assisted in the development of methods other than spanking for managing undesired behavior". In particular, the AAP believes that any corporal punishment methods other than open-hand spanking on the buttocks or extremities "are unacceptable" and "should never be used". The policy statement points out, summarizing several studies, that "The more children are spanked, the more anger they report as adults, the more likely they are to spank their own children, the more likely they are to approve of hitting a spouse, and the more marital conflict they experience as adults."[49] Spanking has been associated with higher rates of physical aggression, more substance abuse, and increased risk of crime and violence when used with older children and adolescents.[50]

The Canadian Pediatrics Society policy on corporal punishment states "The Psychosocial Paediatrics Committee of the Canadian Paediatric Society has carefully reviewed the available research in the controversial area of disciplinary spanking (7-15)... The research that is available supports the position that spanking and other forms of physical punishment are associated with negative child outcomes. The Canadian Paediatric Society, therefore, recommends that physicians strongly discourage disciplinary spanking and all other forms of physical punishment".[55]

In the United Kingdom, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and the Royal College of Psychiatrists have both called for a complete ban on all corporal punishment, stating "We believe it is both wrong and impracticable to seek to define acceptable forms of corporal punishment of children. Such an exercise is unjust. Hitting children is a lesson in bad behaviour".[56] and that "it is never appropriate to hit or beat children".[57]

The Australian Psychological Society holds that physical punishment of children should not be used as it has very limited capacity to deter unwanted behavior, does not teach alternative desirable behavior, often promotes further undesirable behaviors such as defiance and attachment to "delinquent" peer groups, and encourages an acceptance of aggression and violence as acceptable responses to conflicts and problems.[58]

Opponents of corporal punishment sometimes argue that spanking constitutes "violence" and is therefore by definition "abusive". Some psychological research is held to indicate that corporal punishment causes the deterioration of trust bonds between parents and children. It is claimed that children subjected to corporal punishment may grow resentful, shy, insecure, or violent. Adults who report having been slapped or spanked by their parents in childhood have been found to experience elevated rates of anxiety disorder, alcohol abuse or dependence and externalizing problems as adults.[59] Some researchers believe that corporal punishment actually works against its objective (normally obedience), since children will not voluntarily obey an adult they do not trust. Researcher Elizabeth Gershoff, Ph. D., in a 2002 meta-analytic study that combined 60 years of research on corporal punishment, found that the only positive outcome of corporal punishment was immediate compliance; however, corporal punishment was associated with less long-term compliance.[60] Corporal punishment was linked with nine other negative outcomes, including increased rates of aggression, delinquency, mental health problems, problems in relationships with their parents, and likelihood of being physically abused.

Opponents claim that much child abuse begins with spanking: a parent accustomed to using corporal punishment may, on this view, find it all too easy, when frustrated, to step over the line into physical abuse. One study found that 40% of 111 mothers were worried that they could possibly hurt their children.[61] It is argued that frustrated parents turn to spanking when attempting to discipline their child, and then get carried away (given the arguable continuum between spanking and hitting). This "continuum" argument also raises the question of whether a spank can be "too hard" and how (if at all) this can be defined in practical terms. This in turn leads to the question whether parents who spank their children "too hard" are crossing the line and beginning to abuse them.

Opponents also argue that a problem with the use of corporal punishment is that, if punishments are to maintain their efficacy, the amount of force required may have to be increased over successive punishments. This has been claimed by the American Academy of Pediatrics,[54] which has asserted: "The only way to maintain the initial effect of spanking is to systematically increase the intensity with which it is delivered, which can quickly escalate into abuse". Additionally, the Academy noted that: "Parents who spank their children are more likely to use other unacceptable forms of corporal punishment."[62]

The American Academy of Pediatrics also believes that corporal punishment polarizes the parent-child relationship, reducing the amount of spontaneous cooperation on the part of the child. The AAP policy statement says " on spanking as a discipline approach makes other discipline strategies less effective to use".[54] Thus, so it is alleged, it has an addiction-like effect: the more one spanks, the more one feels a need to spank, possibly escalating until the situation is out of control.

A 2003 review of available research into parental punishment concluded that "strong evidence exists that the use of physical punishment has a number of inherent risks regarding the physical and mental health and well-being of children".[63]

A 2006 retrospective report study in New Zealand showed that physical punishment of children was quite common in the 1970s and 80s, with 80% of the sample reporting some kind of corporal punishment from parents at some time during childhood. Among this sample, 29% reported being hit with an empty hand, 45% with an object, and 6% were subjected to serious physical abuse. The study noted that abusive physical punishment tended to be given by fathers and often involved striking the child's head or torso instead of the buttocks or limbs.[64]

A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine[65] found that mothers who reported spanking their children were more likely (6% vs 2%) to also report using forms of punishment considered abusive to the researchers "such as beating, burning, kicking, hitting with an object somewhere other than the buttocks, or shaking a child less than 2 years old" than mothers who did not report spanking, and increases in the frequency of spanking were statistically correlated with increased odds of abuse.[66]

There is also MRI evidence that children treated with harsh corporal punishment have reduced gray matter when aged 18–25 in their prefrontal lobe. Such research also found that these reductions in gray matter linked to reduced performance IQ on the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale.[67]

Corporal punishment and religion

Some who carry out corporal punishment do so for ideological or religious reasons. Douglas Wilson appeals to the Bible ("He who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him," Proverbs 13:24) to argue that corporal punishment is a duty for parents, though "biblical training consists of far more than spanking."[68] Wilson also points out that Proverbs 3:12 ("The LORD disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in") is "encouragingly quoted" in the New Testament book of Hebrews.[69]

Although some Christians use physical discipline for religious reasons, the European Commission of Human Rights rejected an application in 1982 by Swedish parents who alleged that Sweden’s 1979 ban on parental physical punishment breached their right to respect for family life and religious freedom.[70] The Council of Europe's Commissioner for Human Rights argues that

Vocal opposition to banning all corporal punishment comes in some countries from minority religious groups, quoting texts which, they believe, give them a right or even a duty to discipline their children with violence. While freedom of religious belief should be respected, such beliefs cannot justify practices which breach the rights of others, including children’s rights to respect for their physical integrity and human dignity.[71]

The Council of Europe asserts that "Mainstream faith communities and respected leaders are now supporting moves to prohibit and eliminate all violence against children."[71]

Alternatives to spanking

Main article: Child discipline

Some opponents of spanking suggest numerous methods of non-corporal child discipline which they consider to be at least as effective as spanking, while lacking the negative side-effects they attribute to spanking.

Agencies that oppose spanking

Several agencies responsible for child health have issued policies against corporal punishment such as:


UNESCO recommends that corporal punishment be prohibited in schools, homes and institutions as a form of discipline, and alleges that it is a violation of human rights as well as counterproductive, ineffective, dangerous and harmful to children.[72]

Save the Children "opposes all forms of corporal punishment on children".[73]


The Australian Psychological Society holds that corporal punishment of children is an ineffective method of deterring unwanted behavior, promotes undesirable behaviors and fails to demonstrate an alternative desirable behavior.[74]


The Canadian Paediatric Society reviewed research on spanking and concluded that it was associated with negative outcomes, and physicians recommended against spanking.[75]

United Kingdom

The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health is against spanking[76] and opposes the striking of children in all circumstances.[57] The Royal College of Psychiatrists also takes the position that corporal punishment is unacceptable in all circumstances.[77]

United States

The American Academy of Pediatrics believes that corporal punishment possesses some negative side-effects and only limited benefits, and recommends the use of other forms of discipline to manage undesirable behavior.[54] A 1996 AAP Consensus Conference [78] concluded that spanking should never be used under 2 years of age, may be effective for preschoolers when combined with verbal correction, and should not be used in older children and adolescents. The National Association of Social Workers "opposes the use of physical punishment in homes, schools, and all other institutions where children are cared for and educated."[79]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children (GITEACPOC).
  2. Singapore's 2nd and 3rd periodic report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child. (doc) Ministry of Community Development, Youth and Sports, Singapore.
  3. "About corporal punishment", The Ombudsman for Children in Norway, 30 September 2008, retrieved on 8 August 2009
  4. Tisdall, Jonathan, "Supreme Court upholds spanking ban", Aftenposten English web desk, Oslo, 30 November 2005.
  5. includeonly>Brandeggen, Torbjørn. "Forbudt å klapse barn - Barneloven endret i dag", TV2 Nyhetene, 9 April 2010. Retrieved on 17 August 2010. (in Norwegian)
  6. 6.0 6.1 Durrant, Joan E. (1996). "The Swedish Ban on Corporal Punishment: Its History and Effects" Family Violence Against Children: A Challenge for Society, 19–25, Berlin, New York: Walter De Gruyter Inc..
  7. Strauss, Valerie. "Tunisia bans spanking (even by parents)". The Washington Post, 23 July 2010.
  8. includeonly>"Brazil Government Wants to Ban Corporal Punishment of Kids". Retrieved on 2010-07-28.
  9. Australia State Report, GITEACPOC, February 2009.
  10. See New South Wales Crimes Act (s61), Northern Territory Criminal Code Act (s27), Queensland Criminal Code Act 1899 (s280), South Australia Criminal Law Consolidation Act 1935 (s20), Tasmania Criminal Code Act 1924 (s50), Western Australia Criminal Code 1913 (s257) and under common law in Australian Capital Territory and Victoria.
  11. Weatherup, Malcolm, "Teen beaten over letters", Townsville Bulletin, Queensland, 5 May 2004.
  12. Tkaczuk Sikora, Natalie, "Courts warn parents", The Herald Sun, Melbourne, 17 November 2005.
  13. Malpeli, Gareth, "Change smack law: group", The West Australian, Perth, 12 July 2002.
  14. Canadian Press, "Top court upholds spanking law", Toronto Star, 31 January 2004.
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  26. Code of Maryland Regulations -
  27. Texas Department of Family and Protective Services -5250 Emergency Removal Without a Court Order
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  38. (October 1999). Slapping and spanking in childhood and its association with lifetime prevalence of psychiatric disorders in a general population sample. Canadian Medical Association Journal 161 (7): 805–9.
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