HCP Live
Contagion LiveCGT LiveNeurology LiveHCP LiveOncology LiveContemporary PediatricsContemporary OBGYNEndocrinology NetworkPractical CardiologyRheumatology Netowrk

Corporal Punishment of Children Remains Common Worldwide

Although spanking has declined in the US, nearly 80% of preschool children are still disciplined this way, according to new research, which also finds that corporal punishment of children is still common around the world, despite bans that have been adopted in 24 countries.

Although spanking has declined in the US since 1975, nearly 80% of preschool children are still disciplined in this fashion, according to new research, which also finds that corporal punishment of children is still common around the world, despite bans that have been adopted in 24 countries since 1979.

Investigators at the University of North Carolina conducted surveys in Egypt, India, Chile, the Philippines, Brazil, and the U.S. to track international variations in corporal punishment, and found that the rates of harsh physical discipline were “dramatically higher” in those communities than published rates of official physical abuse in any nation.

“The findings are stark. Harsh treatment of children was epidemic in all communities. Our data support the conclusions that maltreatment occurs in all nations,” said Desmond Runyan, MD, DrPH, lead author of the study.

Other findings from the research, which is published in Pediatrics, are as follows:

  • Mothers with fewer years of education more commonly used physical punishment.
  • Rates of harsh physical discipline revealed by the surveys were “dramatically higher” in all communities “than published rates of official physical abuse in any country.”
  • Mothers with fewer years of education more commonly used physical punishment.
  • Rates of corporal punishment vary widely among communities within the same country. For example, both the highest and lowest rates of hitting a child on the buttocks with an object (such as a paddle) were found in different communities in India. (About one quarter of respondents in the U.S. sample used this form of punishment.)
  • Harsh punishment of children by parents is not less common in countries other than the U.S. It may be more common, especially in low and middle income countries.

Two other studies led by Adam J. Zolotor, MD, MPH, also of UNC School of Medicine, also looked at this topic. The first study, published in the journal Child Abuse Review, tracked corporal punishment and physical abuse trends for three-to-11-year-old children in the US as demonstrated by four separate surveys conducted in 1975, 1985, 1995 (all national surveys) and 2002 (in North Carolina and South Carolina).

This study found that 18% fewer children were slapped or spanked by caregivers in 2002 compared to 1975. However, even after this decline, most preschool-aged children are spanked (79%), and nearly half of children ages eight and nine in the 2002 survey were hit with an object such as a paddle or switch.

“This study shows that the US, unlike most other high income countries, has had little change in the use of corporal punishment as commonplace," Zolotor said. "Given the weight of evidence that spanking does more harm than good, it is important that parents understand the full range of options for helping to teach their children. A bit of good news is that the decline in the use of harsher forms of punishment is somewhat more impressive.”

The second study led by Zolotor was a systematic review of the laws and changes in attitudes and behaviors in countries that have adopted bans on corporal punishment since the passage of the Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1979. The United Nations adopted the Convention on the Rights of the Child on Nov. 20, 1989. By Sept. 2, 1990, 20 nations signed on to enforce the treaty. Currently, with the exception of the United States and Somalia, 193 nations have signed on to enforce it.

The study, which is published in Child Abuse Review, found that of the 24 countries that have banned corporal punishment (which is only 12% of the world’s countries, 19 are in Europe, including all of the Scandinavian and near Scandinavian countries (Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland and Finland). Three others are in Central or South America, one in the Middle East and one in Oceania (the region that includes Australia, New Zealand and Pacific Ocean island nations such as Malaysia and Indonesia). The study also found that there are no national bans on corporal punishment anywhere in Asia or North America, and that national bans on corporal punishment are closely associated with declining popular support for corporal punishment and parent report of spanking.

“This study shows us that, over 30 years after the passage of the Convention on the Rights of the Child by the United Nations and after ratification by 193 member countries, a small number have supported this convention by explicit prohibition of corporal punishment. It also underscores the important relationship between social change and legislative change,” Zolotor said.