Negative effects of corporal
punishment on children
Ruptured eardrums, brain damage and other bodily
injuries and death in some instances are some of the bad and tragic
effects of corporal punishment. While the physical damage done to the
body can be treated, the emotional and psychological effects can affect
the survivor deeply. Corporal punishment is the hitting of a person with
a hand or an object such as a cane or belt. It is also kicking, burning,
shaking or throwing of a person with the intention of inflicting pain on
them. Pinching or pulling the hair, forcing one to sit in uncomfortable
or undignified positions, or forcing one to take excessive physical
exercise as a way of disciplining them is tantamount to corporal
Although prohibited by law in Zambia as a way of
disciplining children in schools, corporal punishment is still widely
practised by teachers and by parents in homes. This is because no
measures have been taken to ensure that legislation is implemented and
the behaviour of perpetrators changed. Corporal punishment is still
widely practised by teachers and parents as reflected in a qualitative
and quantitative survey of 2,705 boys and girls aged between six and 18
The objective of the survey was to explore a diversity
of experiences; views and feelings related to corporal punishment and
other forms of humiliating and degrading punishment of children. It was
also intended to estimate the levels of corporal punishment in schools
and homes in the country. The study looked at corporal and humiliating
and degrading punishment of children over a period of two weeks. It was
conducted in 2005 in all the nine provinces of Zambia by the Zambia
Civic Education Association and commissioned by Save The Children
According to the survey, corporal punishment and other
forms of degrading and humiliating punishment are still widely practised
in Zambia both at school and at home. Children are often hit with a
hand, a stick or hosepipe in schools when they do wrong. At home they
are hit with sticks, belts, hands and in some cases denied food.
Some parents and child tenders alike practise corporal
punishment because of the belief that children do not grow to be
well-mannered adults if they are not spanked or beaten when they make
mistakes. Some even say that abolishing corporal punishment is a
Western-centric concept that will cause havoc in African cultures and
lead to moral decay.
The study also established that corporal punishment is
more pronounced in low-income environments than in affluent communities.
This can be attributed to poverty and its effects like stress and high
illiteracy levels in these communities. Such factors tend to have an
effect on how adults discipline children. Whatever reasons, parents and
teachers and indeed other care-givers may have to justify corporal
punishment as a form of child discipline. It should be noted that its
effects on survivors are damaging.
According to Father Derrick Muwina, an assistant
priest at the Anglican Cathedral of The Holy Cross Lusaka, corporal
punishment only induces fear and distorts reasoning. "Beating or
treating children in a degrading manner are ineffective ways of
disciplining them because they only save as quick fixes that are
detrimental to a child and do not provide a lasting solution to a
problem. In schools for instance, teachers should tell pupils the
benefits of possessing a good character coupled with good academic
performance and also the consequences of one not possessing them. This
approach instils a sense of responsibility in them. On the other hand
corporal punishment induces fear and distorts reasoning. Fr Muwina
asserted: "Children need discipline but they need to learn
self-discipline. There is need to encourage non-violent and
non-humiliating ways of instilling discipline in them."
Corporal punishment does not help a child to develop
into an adult with self-discipline and respect for other people.
Instead, it distorts sound judgement and creates anti-social behaviours.
Fr Muwina further asserted that some people have taken
biblical scriptures literally. He cited Proverbs 11: 7, which says
"spare the rod and spoil the child."
According to Fr Muwina, the portion of the scripture
in question does not literally mean what most people perceive it to
entail "This does not literally mean what it has generally been
perceived to mean. In this case the rod is the code of conduct. The
psalmist says, Thy rod and thy stuff they comfort me. How can something
comfort and cause you pain at the same time? The rod referred to in the
Bible is the code of conduct that is meant to guide and instruct one in
the right path for them to have a disciplined and fulfilling life, Fr
And according to the same study, corporal punishment
is used more frequently on younger children (6-12 years) than on older
children (13-18 years). Older children experience humiliating and
degrading treatment to a larger extent. There was also a small but
consistent trend for boys to be subjected to corporal punishment while
older girls experienced humiliating and degrading punishment in the form
of verbal abuse to a larger extent.
Corporal punishment works against the process of
ethical development. It teaches children not to engage in a particular
behaviour because they risk being beaten. But it does not teach them the
reasons and ethics for not behaving in a particular manner.
It is said that violence breeds violence. The use of
corporal punishment on children contributes to a perception from an
early age that violence is an appropriate response to conflict
resolution and unwanted behaviour. It teaches them that it is acceptable
for powerful persons to be violent towards the weak and to resolve
conflicts through violence.
The escalating levels of gender violence especially
against women and children are evidence of this archaic and despicable
method of disciplining young people. Children exposed to non-peaceful
ways of conflict resolution often become perpetrators of gender violence
in their adulthood. Exposing children to violence can make them
potential perpetrators of such vices later in life.
Notwithstanding its devastating effects on survivors
and society at large, it is disheartening to note that less than 20
countries globally have adopted legislation to prohibit corporal
punishment of children. Some countries have even outlawed corporal
punishment of children in schools and other institutions.
Corporal punishment violates human rights to physical
integrity and human dignity, as upheld by the UN Convention on the
Rights of the Child, The African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of
the Child, as well as the Zambian Constitution.
Often times, children are viewed as second-class
humans, but they are as much entitled to their equal enjoyment of rights
just as adults. For some reasons, corporal punishment of children has
not been given the seriousness it deserves. This has caused a lot of
children to suffer silently. Children too have the right to be heard.
But more often than not, society does not want to accord them the
opportunity to do so. This is because adults tend to think that children
are incapable of reasoning and hence cannot be consulted even on issues
concerning them. Given a choice, children would prefer to be disciplined
in non-violent and non-humiliating ways.
According to the same study, approximately 70 per cent
of the children found corporal punishment in the home and at school
unacceptable. Their sentiment was the same for humiliating punishment,
which approximately found 79 per cent unacceptable as evidenced by the
study that showed 75 per cent of the children were against corporal
punishment. The children said that the practice is harmful both
physically and emotionally and that it induces fear in them and thereby
reduces their concentration. The majority of children said that they
would prefer parents and teachers to talk to them and explain what they
did wrong instead of beating them or using other forms of humiliating
and degrading punishment as a way of disciplining them. Given the
children's response, it can be said therefore that children would prefer
to be treated with respect just like everyone else. Thus, to have adults
listen to them and to be given a better understating of what they have
done wrong instead of rushing into beating or treating them inhumanely.
However, eleven per cent of the children preferred
corporal punishment when being disciplined. This option was more
favoured by children from low-income environments. A possible sad
explanation to this perception could be that these children live in
environments where violent forms of discipline are acceptable and they
are so used to violence as a way of correction such that they cannot
imagine any other forms of discipline.
Zambia Police Service Victim Support Unit coordinator,
Peter Kanunka said most cases of corporal punishment go unreported
unless in situations where a teacher physically and emotionally hurts a
pupil. Unfortunately, even such cases are in most cases not reported,
therefore, perpetuating the menace of corporal punishment as a form of
punishment. "Survivors grow up traumatised as a result of physical and
emotional pain inflicted on them," Mr Kanunka said.
Unfortunately, the ban on corporal punishment in
schools has not been followed up by measures that offer alternatives to
the vice. Many teachers feel that the Government prohibited corporal
punishment without providing them with proper guidelines and training on
alternative methods of discipline. The lack of skills to manage
discipline through non-violent ways and cultural beliefs that tend to
encourage the beating of children as a way of disciplining them have
perpetrated the practice. There is need to provide teachers with some
form of training in disciplining children by using positive and
non-violent ways that can be incorporated in the teachers' training
As rightly observed by Zambia's Human Rights
Commission director, Enoch Mulembe, corporal punishment is an evil.
"Disciplining children by corporal punishment and other inhuman ways is
evil. We should encourage non-violent ways of discipline because
corporal punishment has proved to be destructive," said Mulembe
Childhood is not only a long journey but also a
delicate part of one's life because it is the time when one's
personality is moulded into what they become later in life. Despite its
profoundly negative effects on survivors, corporal and degrading
punishment of children is in many instances still legalised and a
socially accepted form of violence against children. The low status of
children in society and their lack of power have prevented a complete
prohibition of the vice in many countries including Zambia. It is
therefore our collective obligation to ensure that children's right to a
life free from violence including corporal punishment and other forms of
degrading punishment is protected. This right extends into the private
life and home of the child.
Abolishing corporal punishment in schools by
Government is not enough. There is need for legislation to be
implemented so as to protect children from violence and to promote human
dignity and advance human rights. It should be noted that both corporal
punishment and humiliating and degrading punishment is not only harmful
to children but also violates children's rights.
It should also be noted that human rights start with
Lillian Hannah Banda
1 November 2006