corporal-punishmentSixteen EU Member States have already adopted full prohibition in law of the corporal punishment of children, and a further four have publicly pledged to do the same. Despite this move towards its elimination, however, the UK’s stance on the issue remains indecisive. In fact, a 2012 poll by Angus Reid of 2,011 adults in Britain showed that public opinion is similarly split. 63% opposed “banning parents from smacking their children” and 39% opposed the “ban on smacking” in schools. So what is it about corporal punishment that some consider so valuable?

My secondary-school-teacher housemate shed a little extra light on the situation. Children in her class had spoken up against the soft hand of the British regime, children from countries where corporal punishment is acceptable. “You don’t get the same respect,” they told her. They said that teachers ‘back home’ had ‘real control’ over their classes, and it was because they weren’t afraid of (or prohibited from) hitting disobedient students. Perhaps what they said was true, that corporal punishment precedes ‘respect’ for a teacher; and I’ve no doubt that when a teacher brandishing a cane tells you to do something, you’ll do it. The results of a meta-analysis by Elizabeth Gershoff confirmed my suspicions.

Gershoff looked for associations between the parental use of corporal punishment and 11 different behaviours, experiences and characteristics present during a child’s development and later life. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the strongest association found was between corporal punishment and the immediate compliance of the child. If getting your child to behave straight away is your only concern, corporal punishment is certainly an effective tool.

But is this the respect we really want our children to have for their parents? A child who is obedient for fear of being hit does not want to be obedient, nor are they a loyal, inwardly moral child because of it. They are not primarily obeying their parents out of respect, but out of the selfish desire to avoid punishment. As soon as their parents’ backs are turned, every law-abiding urge in them is extinguished. In a study of parent-child interaction by Hugh Lytton , physical punishment was actually found to be negatively associated with a child’s compliance in the long-term. Gershoff also discovered strong associations between corporal punishment and all 11 of her targeted outcomes. Children smacked by their parents were more likely to develop mental health problems, exhibit aggressive or criminal behaviour in later life and were more likely to physically abuse their own children or spouse.

Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (ratified by the UK in 1991) requires that states take:
“All appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”
It is surprising that a nation at the helm of such a convention could ignore so important a part of it. Doubtless opponents of a ‘smacking ban’ will claim that physical punishment does not constitute “injury or abuse”, but in light of the evidence, that seems a difficult conclusion to maintain. Why is the UK permitting the legality of a practice that causes nothing but harm? Corporal punishment is not creating a conscientious, loving community. At best it is perpetuating an obedient, but downtrodden, public state and at worst creating a cruel generation who see violence as the only answer.

“As long as the child will be trained not by love, but by fear, so long will humanity live not by justice, but by force. As long as the child will be ruled by the educator’s threat and by the father’s rod, so long will mankind be dominated by the policeman’s club, by fear of jail, and by panic of invasion by armies and navies.”

Global progress towards the prohibition of corporal punishment is accelerating, but the race is by no means over. The EU has an opportunity to be the flag bearer for children’s rights across the world, and we must make every effort not to pass it up.

BY: David Salisbury