Corporal punishment deep rooted
The corporal punishment of children is so widespread and so deeply
rooted in history that spanking might be called the slap heard round
the world. It is practised from Alaska, where the Inupiaq people have believed
for thousands of years that a quick slap is better than a harsh word, to
schools in Botswana in Africa, where teachers argue the way to stop
students from drinking is to whip them publicly.
The physical disciplining of children by parents is endorsed by most
religions and has been found in scriptures since the Old Testament,
which advises: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son.”
That sentiment found popular expression as early as the 1600s, when
English poet Samuel Butler summed it up with the memorable line: “Then
spare the rod and spoil the child.”
Despite its wide acceptance, spanking has long been debated and is
coming under growing attack, with critics from child-behaviour experts
to the United Nations questioning the practice.
Peter Dudding, director of the Child Welfare League of Canada, said
yesterday that “the evidence is clear in terms of the use of physical
punishment — it's harmful to children.”
Scholar George Holden of the University of Texas says in a recent
paper, “Parental use of corporal punishment has been a contentious
child-rearing topic for thousands of years.”
Prof. Holden notes that corporal punishment has been outlawed in 11
nations but says he doubts the United States is ready to follow suit.
“Parents' belief in their entitlement to use corporal punishment is
deeply embedded in American history, beliefs about the privacy of the
family and personal freedoms, and attitudes about children and how to
rear them.” He says the reasons underlying parental use of the practice are
complex, including “an instrumental religious reason, an impulsive
reaction, or a lack of knowledge of alternatives.”
Cultural practices are a large part of the reason parents spank their
children. In Alaska, the Inupiaq philosophy includes the belief that a quiet
form of correction is the best way to discipline a child. It might be
summed up as: Speak softly, but be ready to slap. A historical Inupiaq cultural profile states.
“Yelling at a child too
much would make the child ‘deaf’ to talk or reasoning as time went on. “It was also disrespectful to the name and being of the child. A
spanking when necessary was looked on more favourably. A spanking ‘hurt
the skin’, but constant yelling hurt the spirit.”
In Botswana, the independent daily newspaper Mmegi recently reported
on a debate over the appropriate way to deal with a student drinking
problem. “Our culture is there and we have to be proud of it. Let the whip
crack,” said Lesego Koketso, the head of Pastoral Theology at
Mogoditshane Senior Secondary.
Nadine Block, writing in the Humanist, the magazine of the American
Humanist Association, said corporal punishment is a divisive subject.
It's one “that often pits generation against generation and family
member against family member.”
Director of the Center for Effective Discipline in the U.S., Ms.
Block is campaigning to have spanking outlawed around the world. “The strongest and most enduring support for the practice comes from
the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. Many fundamentalist,
evangelical and charismatic Protestants use Scripture to justify their
use of corporal punishment to develop obedience and character in
children. Their position is that God wills and requires it in order to obtain
his blessing and approval; to not physically punish children for
misbehaviour will incur God's wrath,” she writes.
On the website of the Antioch Baptist Church in Tennessee is the
observation: “Spanking or whipping is biblical discipline. And, it is
not necessarily the choice of last resort. It is the linchpin of all
biblical child discipline.”
Many religions recognize the right of parents to discipline their
children but urge them to find non-violent means. Buddhism teaches that it is counterproductive and the Hindu religion
does not sanction spanking at any age. The United Nations is among the organizations that think corporal
punishment should not be used against children under any circumstances.
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors
implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, states that
“legal and social acceptance of physical punishment of children, in the
home and in institutions, is not compatible with the Convention.”
It is illegal for parents or anyone else to spank children in
Austria, Germany, Croatia, Israel, Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Iceland,
Latvia, Norway and Sweden. But in most countries, it is acceptable.
Over the past two decades, surveys have found that in Britain 75 per
cent of mothers admitted to smacking their babies before the age of 1;
in Korea 97 per cent of children had been physically punished by
parents; in India 91 per cent of male and 86 per cent of female
university students said they'd been physically punished as children; in
Chile 80 per cent of parents said they used physical punishment on their
By Mark Hume
5 February 2004