Corporal punishment

This article is about the infliction of bodily pain as a form of punishment. For other uses, see Corporal punishment (disambiguation).

Corporal punishment or physical punishment (physical discipline in some contexts) is a punishment intended to cause physical pain on a person. It is usually inflicted in settings with a substantial disparity of power between the partakers.

Corporal punishment is commonly practiced on minors, especially in home and also school settings, usually employing more modest forms. Common methods in this regard often include spanking or paddling.

It is however also used on adults, particularly prisoners in some countries. In history most cultures have practiced corporal punishment on adults in settings of imprisonment or slavery. Frequently employed methods are flagellation and caning. In some countries bastinado is still practiced on prisoners as well.[1]

Official punishment for crime by inflicting pain or injury, including flogging, branding and even mutilation, was practised in most civilizations since ancient times. However, with the growth of humanitarian ideals since the Enlightenment, such punishments were increasingly viewed as inhumane. By the late 20th century, corporal punishment had been eliminated from the legal systems of most developed countries.[2]

The legality in the 21st century of corporal punishment in various settings differs by jurisdiction. Internationally, the late 20th century and early 21st century saw the application of human rights law to the question of corporal punishment in a number of contexts:

Other uses of corporal punishment have existed, for instance as once practised on apprentices by their masters. In many Western countries, medical and human-rights organizations oppose corporal punishment of children. Campaigns against corporal punishment have aimed to bring about legal reform to ban the use of corporal punishment against minors in homes and schools.


Birching, Germany, 17th century
Depiction of a flogging at Oregon State Penitentiary, 1908

Corporal punishment of children has traditionally been used in the Western world by adults in authority roles.[6] Beating one's child as a punishment was recommended as early as c. the 10th century BC in the book of Proverbs attributed to Solomon:

He that spareth the rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him correcteth him betimes.[7]
Withhold not correction from a child: for if thou strike him with the rod, he shall not die. Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and deliver his soul from hell.[8]

It was certainly present in classical civilizations, being used in Greece, Rome, and Egypt for both judicial and educational discipline.[9] Some states gained a reputation for using such punishments cruelly; Sparta, in particular, used them as part of a disciplinary regime designed to build willpower and physical strength.[10] Although the Spartan example was extreme, corporal punishment was possibly the most frequent type of punishment. In the Roman Empire, the maximum penalty that a Roman citizen could receive under the law was 40 "lashes" or "strokes" with a whip applied to the back and shoulders, or with the "fasces" (similar to a birch rod, but consisting of 8–10 lengths of willow rather than birch) applied to the buttocks. Such punishments could draw blood, and were frequently inflicted in public.

Foot whipping an offender, Iran, 1920s

Quintilian (c. 35 – c. 100) voiced opposition to the use of corporal punishment in some circumstances, while appearing to condone its use against slaves, which was customary in 1st century Rome. According to Robert McCole Wilson, "probably no more lucid indictment of it has been made in the succeeding two thousand years".[10]

By that boys should suffer corporal punishment, though it is received by custom, and Chrysippus makes no objection to it, I by no means approve; first, because it is a disgrace, and a punishment fit for slaves, and in reality (as will be evident if you imagine the age change) an affront; secondly, because, if a boy's disposition be so abject as not to be amended by reproof, he will be hardened, like the worst of slaves, even to stripes; and lastly, because, if one who regularly exacts his tasks be with him, there will not be the need of any chastisement...
Besides, after you have coerced a boy with stripes, how will you treat him when he becomes a young man, to whom such terror cannot be held out, and by whom more difficult studies must be pursued? Add to these considerations, that many things unpleasant to be mentioned, and likely afterwards to cause shame, often happen to boys while being whipped, under the influence of pain or fear; and such shame enervates and depresses the mind, and makes them shun people's sight and feel constant uneasiness ... scandalously unworthy men may abuse the privilege of punishing, and what opportunity also the terror of the unhappy children may sometimes afford others. (Quintilian, Institutes of Oratory, 1856 edition, I, III)[10]

Plutarch, also in the first century, says something similar:

This also I assert, that children ought to be led to honourable practices by means of encouragement and reasoning, and most certainly not by blows or ill-treatment, for it surely is agreed that these are fitting rather for slaves than for the free-born; for so they grow numb and shudder at their tasks, partly from the pain of the blows, partly from the degradation. Praise and reproof are more helpful for the free-born than any sort of ill-usage, since the praise incites them toward what is honourable, and reproof keeps them from what is disgraceful.[11]
Birching on the buttocks

In Medieval Europe, corporal punishment was encouraged by the attitudes of the medieval church towards the human body, flagellation being a common means of self-discipline. This had an influence on the use of corporal punishment in schools, as educational establishments were closely attached to the church during this period. Nevertheless, corporal punishment was not used uncritically; as early as the eleventh century Saint Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury was speaking out against what he saw as the excessive use of corporal punishment in the treatment of children.[12]

From the 16th century onwards, new trends were seen in corporal punishment. Judicial punishments were increasingly turned into public spectacles, with public beatings of criminals intended as a deterrent to other would-be offenders. Meanwhile, early writers on education, such as Roger Ascham, complained of the arbitrary manner in which children were punished.[13]

Husaga (the right of the master of the household to corporally punish his servants) was outlawed in Sweden for adults in 1858.

Peter Newell assumes that perhaps the most influential writer on the subject was the English philosopher John Locke, whose Some Thoughts Concerning Education explicitly criticised the central role of corporal punishment in education. Locke's work was highly influential, and may have helped influence Polish legislators to ban corporal punishment from Poland's schools in 1783, the first country in the world to do so.[14]

During the 18th century, the concept of corporal punishment was challenged by some philosophers and legal reformers. Merely inflicting pain was seen as an inefficient form of discipline, influencing the subject only for a short period of time and effecting no permanent change in their behaviour. Some believed that the purpose of punishment should be reformation, not retribution. This is perhaps best expressed in Jeremy Bentham's idea of a panoptic prison, in which prisoners were controlled and surveyed at all times, perceived to be advantageous in that this system supposedly reduced the need of measures such as corporal punishment.[15]

A consequence of this mode of thinking was a reduction in the use of corporal punishment in the 19th century in Europe and North America. In some countries this was encouraged by scandals involving individuals seriously hurt during acts of corporal punishment. For instance, in Britain, popular opposition to punishment was encouraged by two significant cases, the death of Private Frederick John White, who died after a military flogging in 1846,[16] and the death of Reginald Cancellor, killed by his schoolmaster in 1860.[17] Events such as these mobilised public opinion and, by the late nineteenth century, the extent of corporal punishment's use in state schools was unpopular with many parents in England.[18] Authorities in Britain and some other countries introduced more detailed rules for the infliction of corporal punishment in government institutions such as schools, prisons and reformatories. By the First World War, parents' complaints about disciplinary excesses in England had died down, and corporal punishment was established as an expected form of school discipline.[18]

In the 1870s, courts in the United States overruled the common-law principle that a husband had the right to "physically chastise an errant wife".[19] In the UK the traditional right of a husband to inflict moderate corporal punishment on his wife in order to keep her "within the bounds of duty" was similarly removed in 1891.[20][21] See Domestic violence for more information.

In the United Kingdom, the use of judicial corporal punishment declined during the first half of the 20th century and it was abolished altogether in the Criminal Justice Act, 1948 (zi & z2 GEo. 6. CH. 58.), whereby whipping and flogging were outlawed except for use in very serious internal prison discipline cases,[22] while most other European countries had abolished it earlier. Meanwhile, in many schools, the use of the cane, paddle or tawse remained commonplace in the UK and the United States until the 1980s. In several other countries, it still is: see School corporal punishment.

International treaties

Human rights

Key developments related to corporal punishment occurred in the late 20th century. Years with particular significance to the prohibition of corporal punishment are emphasised.

Children's rights

The notion of children’s rights in the Western world developed in the 20th century, but the issue of corporal punishment was not addressed generally before mid-century. Years with particular significance to the prohibition of corporal punishment of children are emphasised.

Modern use

Legality of corporal punishment of minors in Europe
  Corporal punishment banned in schools and the home
  Corporal punishment banned in schools only
  Corporal punishment allowed in schools and the home

Legal status

Many European countries, including all Nordic countries, have prohibited any corporal punishment of children.

The earliest recorded attempt to prohibit corporal punishment of children by a state dates back to Poland in 1783.[37] However, its prohibition in all spheres of life – in homes, schools, the penal system and alternative care settings – occurred first in 1979 in Sweden. The new Swedish Parental Code reads: "Children are entitled to care, security and a good upbringing. Children are to be treated with respect for their person and individuality and may not be subjected to corporal punishment or any other humiliating treatment."[38]

As of 2016, corporal punishment is outlawed in all settings, including the home, in 51 countries and 2 constituent countries.[39] States that have completely prohibited corporal punishment of children are listed below (in chronological order):[40]

Sweden (1979)
Finland (1983)
Norway (1987)
Austria (1989)
Cyprus (1994)
Denmark (1997)
Latvia (1998)
Croatia (1999)
Bulgaria (2000)
Israel (2000)
Germany (2000)
Turkmenistan (2002)
Iceland (2003)
Ukraine (2004)
Romania (2004)
Hungary (2005)
Greece (2006)
Faroe Islands (2007)
Netherlands (2007)
New Zealand (2007)
Portugal (2007)
Uruguay (2007)
Venezuela (2007)
Spain (2007)
Togo (2007)
Costa Rica (2008)
Republic of Moldova (2008)
Luxembourg (2008)
Liechtenstein (2008)
Poland (2010)
Tunisia (2010)
Kenya (2010)
Congo, Republic of (2010)
Albania (2010)
South Sudan (2011)
Macedonia (2013)
Honduras (2013)[41]
Malta (2014)
Brazil (2014)
Bolivia (2014)
Cape Verde (2014)
Argentina (2014)[42]
San Marino (2014)[43]
Nicaragua (2014)[44]
Estonia (2014)[45]
Andorra (2014)
Benin (2015)
Republic of Ireland (2015)
Peru (2015)[46]
Greenland (2016)[47]
Mongolia (2016)[48]
Paraguay (2016)[49]
Slovenia (2016)

For a more detailed overview of the global use and prohibition of the corporal punishment of children, see the following table.

Summary of the number of states prohibiting corporal punishment of children[50]
Home Schools Penal system Alternative care settings
As sentence for crime As disciplinary measure
Prohibited 51 117 155 116 38
Not prohibited 147 81 42 78 160
Legality unknown - - 1 4 -

Corporal punishment in the home

Domestic corporal punishment, i.e. of children by their parents, is often referred to colloquially as "spanking", "smacking" or "slapping."

In an increasing number of countries it has been outlawed, starting with Sweden in 1979.[51] In some other countries, corporal punishment is legal, but restricted (e.g. blows to the head are outlawed and implements may not be used, and/or only children within a certain age range may be spanked).

In all states of the United States, and most African and Asian nations, corporal punishment by parents is currently legal; it is also legal to use certain implements such as a belt or paddle.

In Canada, spanking by parents or legal guardians (but nobody else) is legal, as long as the child is not under 2 years or over 12 years of age, and no implement other than an open, bare hand is used (belts, paddles, etc. are strictly prohibited).[52][53]

In the UK, spanking or smacking is legal, but it must not cause an injury amounting to Actual Bodily Harm (a "serious" injury such as visible bruising, breaking of the whole skin etc.); in Scotland since October 2003 it has been illegal to use any implement or chastise to the head when disciplining a child. In England and Wales slippering (i.e. striking the buttocks repeatedly with the sole of a slipper) has been the traditional method of punishing children in the home. It is assumed still to be legal, provided that no long-lasting bruises are caused.

In Pakistan, Section 89 of Pakistan Penal Code allows corporal punishment.[54]

Corporal punishment in schools

Corporal punishment of school students for misbehaviour has been outlawed in many countries. It often involves striking the student on the buttocks or the palm of the hand with an implement kept for the purpose such as a rattan cane or spanking paddle, or with the open hand. There may be restrictions in some jurisdictions, e.g. in Singapore caning is permitted for boys only. Medical professionals have urged an end to the practice, noting the danger of injury to children's hands especially.[55]

Judicial or quasi-judicial punishment

  Countries with judicial corporal punishment
A member of the Taliban's religious police beating an Afghan woman in Kabul on August 26, 2001

Some 33 countries retain judicial corporal punishment, including a number of former British territories such as Botswana, Malaysia, Singapore and Tanzania. In Malaysia and Singapore, for certain specified offences, males are routinely sentenced to caning in addition to a prison term. The Singaporean practice of caning became much discussed around the world in 1994 when American teenager Michael P. Fay was caned for vandalism.

A number of countries with an Islamic legal system, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan and some northern states in Nigeria, employ judicial whipping for a range of offences. As of 2009, some regions of Pakistan are experiencing a breakdown of law and government, leading to a reintroduction of corporal punishment by ad hoc Islamicist courts.[56] As well as corporal punishment, some Islamic countries such as Saudi Arabia and Iran use other kinds of physical penalties such as amputation or mutilation.[57][58][59] However, the term "corporal punishment" has since the 19th century usually meant caning, flagellation or bastinado rather than those other types of physical penalty.[60][61][62][63][64][65][66]

Proposal to reinstate flogging

In the book In Defense of Flogging, Peter Moskos, a former police officer, suggests that a long prison sentence can be more inhumane than flogging. Moskos believes that many criminals would elect to receive a few lashes (under medical supervision), and questions whether flogging should ever be an option.[67] One reviewer for The Economist writes about Moskos's argument that "Perhaps the most damning evidence of the broken American prison system is that it makes a proposal to reinstate flogging appear almost reasonable. Almost."[68]

Ritual and punishment

Batog, corporal punishment in Russian Empire
Depiction of punishment bench as used for bastinado in several German prisons during the Third Reich era

Corporal punishment in official settings, such as prisons, reformatories and schools, has typically been carried out in a formal ceremony, with a predefined procedure, emphasizing the severity of the occasion. It may even be staged in a ritual manner in front of other inmates or students, in order to act as a deterrent to others.

In the case of prison or judicial punishments, the formal procedure might begin with the offender stripped of some or all of their clothing and restrained to a piece of furniture, such as a trestle or frame,[69][70] (X-cross), punishment horse, plank or bench. In some cases the nature of the offence is read out before the punishment (usually consisting of a predetermined number of strokes) is formally imposed. A variety of implements may be used to inflict strokes on the offender. The terms used to describe these are not fixed, varying by country and by context. There are, however, a number of common types that are encountered when reading about corporal punishment. These include:

In some instances the offender is required to prepare the implement himself. For instance, sailors were employed in preparing the cat o' nine tails that would be used upon their own back, while school students were sometimes sent out to cut a switch or rod.

In contrast, informal punishments, particularly in domestic settings, tend to lack this ritual nature and are often administered with whatever object comes to hand. It is common, for instance, for belts, wooden spoons, slippers, hairbrushes or coathangers to be used in domestic punishment, while rulers and other classroom equipment have been used in schools.

In parts of England, boys were once beaten under the old tradition of "Beating the Bounds" whereby a boy was paraded around the edge of a city or parish and would be spanked with a switch or cane to mark the boundary.[71] One famous "Beating the Bounds" took place around the boundary of St Giles and the area where Tottenham Court Road now stands in central London. The actual stone that separated the boundary is now underneath the Centre Point office tower.[72]

See also


  2. "Corporal punishment". Encyclopaedia Britannica. 9 November 2014. Retrieved April 2015. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  4. Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children
  5. Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children
  6. Rich, John M. (December 1989). "The Use of Corporal Punishment". The Clearing House, Vol. 63, No. 4, pp. 149-152.
  7. Proverbs 13:24
  8. Proverbs 23:13–14
  9. Wilson, Robert M. A Study of Attitudes Towards Corporal Punishment as an Educational Procedure From the Earliest Times to the Present, Nijmegen University, 1999, 2.3 to 2.6.
  10. 1 2 3 Wilson, Robert M., 2.5
  11. Plutarch, Moralia. The Education of Children, Loeb Classical Library. Harvard University Press, 1927.
  12. Wicksteed, Joseph H. The Challenge of Childhood: An Essay on Nature and Education, Chapman & Hall, London, 1936, pp. 34–35. OCLC 3085780
  13. Ascham, Roger. The scholemaster, John Daye, London, 1571, p. 1. Republished by Constable, London, 1927. OCLC 10463182
  14. Newell, Peter (ed.). A Last Resort? Corporal Punishment in Schools, Penguin, London, 1972, p. 9. ISBN 0-14-080698-9
  15. Bentham, Jeremy. Chrestomathia (Martin J. Smith and Wyndham H. Burston, eds.), Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1983, pp. 34, 106. ISBN 0-19-822610-1
  16. Barretts, C.R.B. The History of The 7th Queen's Own Hussars Vol. II.
  17. Middleton, Jacob (2005). "Thomas Hopley and mid-Victorian attitudes to corporal punishment". History of Education.
  18. 1 2 Middleton, Jacob (November 2012). "Spare the Rod". History Today (London).
  19. Calvert, R. "Criminal and civil liability in husband-wife assaults", in Violence in the family (Suzanne K. Steinmetz and Murray A. Straus, eds.), Harper & Row, New York, 1974. ISBN 0-396-06864-2
  20. R. v Jackson, [1891] 1 QB 671, abstracted at
  21. "Corporal punishment", Encyclopædia Britannica Eleventh Edition, 1911.
  22. Criminal Justice Act, 1948 zi & z2 GEo. 6. CH. 58., pp. 54-55.
  23. This applies to the 47 members of the Council of Europe, an entirely separate body from the European Union, which has only 28 member states.
  24. Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children (2012). Retrieved 1 May 2012. "Key Judgements." The ruling concerned the Isle of Man, a UK Crown Dependency.
  25. UN (2012) "4 . International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights Archived 1 September 2010 at the Wayback Machine.," United Nations Treaty Collection. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  26. UN Human Rights Committee (1992) "General Comment No. 20". HRI/GEN/1/Rev.4.: p. 108
  27. UN (2012) "9 . Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment Archived 8 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine.. United Nations Treaty Collection. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  28. UN (1996) General Assembly Official Records, Fiftieth Session, A/50/44, 1995: par. 177, and A/51/44, 1996: par. 65(i).
  29. UN (2012). 3. International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Archived 17 September 2012 at the Wayback Machine. United Nations Treaty Collection. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  30. UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (1999) "General Comment on 'The Right to Education'," HRI/GEN/1/Rev.4: 73.
  31. European Committee of Social Rights 2001. "Conclusions XV – 2," Vol. 1.
  32. UN (2012). 11. Convention on the Rights of the Child Archived 11 February 2014 at the Wayback Machine.. United Nations Treaty Collection. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  33. UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (2006) "General Comment No. 8:" par. 3. However, Article 19 of the Convention makes no reference to corporal punishment, and the Committee's interpretation on this point has been explicitly rejected by several States Party to the Convention, including Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom.
  34. UN OHCHR (2012). Committee on the Rights of the Child. Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  35. UN (2006) "Study on Violence against Children presented by Independent Expert for the Secretary-General". United Nations, A/61/299. See further: UN (2012e). Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Violence against Children. Retrieved 1 May 2012.
  36. UN (2007) United Nations General Assembly, A/RES/62/141. The United States was the only country to vote against. There were no abstentions.
  37. Council of Europe (2007). Abolishing corporal punishment of children. Questions and answers. Building a Europe for and with children. Council of Europe Publishing: 31-2.
  38. Council of Europe (2007). Abolishing corporal punishment of children. Questions and answers. Building a Europe for and with children. Council of Europe Publishing: 32.
  40. "States which have prohibited all corporal punishment". Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children. Retrieved January 2015. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  46. "Country report for Peru". Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children. January 2016.
  47. "Country report for Greenland". Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children. January 2016.
  48. "Country report for Mongolia". Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children. January 2016.
  51. "States which have prohibited all corporal punishment". Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children. Retrieved November 2015. Check date values in: |access-date= (help)
  52. "To spank or not to spank?". CBC News. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
  53. Barnett, Laura. "The "Spanking" Law: Section 43 of the Criminal Code". Parliament of Canada. Retrieved 17 September 2012.
  54. Mazhar Siraj (2010). "Culture as a Factor in the Translation of International Human Rights Law into Local Justice: Evidence from Corporal Punishment of Pakistan". Web Journal of Current Legal Issues (4).
  55. "Corporal Punishment to Children's Hands", A Statement by Medical Authorities as to the Risks, January 2002.
  56. Walsh, Declan. "Video of girl's flogging as Taliban hand out justice", The Guardian, London, 2 April 2009.
  57. Campaign against the Arms Trade, Evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Foreign Affairs, London, January 2005.
  58. "Lashing Justice", Editorial, The New York Times, 3 December 2007.
  59. "Saudi Arabia: Court Orders Eye to Be Gouged Out", Human Rights Watch, 8 December 2005.
  60. Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd edition, 1989, "corporal punishment: punishment inflicted on the body; originally including death, mutilation, branding, bodily confinement, irons, the pillory, etc. (as opposed to a fine or punishment in estate or rank). In 19th c. usually confined to flogging or similar infliction of bodily pain."
  61. "Physical punishment such as caning or flogging" – Concise Oxford Dictionary.
  62. "... inflicted on the body, esp. by beating." – Oxford American Dictionary of Current English.
  63. "mostly a euphemism for the enforcement of discipline by applying canes, whips or birches to the buttocks." – Charles Arnold-Baker, The Companion to British History, Routledge, 2001.
  64. "Physical punishment such as beating or caning" – Chambers 21st Century Dictionary.
  65. "Punishment of a physical nature, such as caning, flogging, or beating." – Collins English Dictionary.
  66. "the striking of somebody's body as punishment" – Encarta World English Dictionary, MSN. Archived 2009-10-31.
  67. Review, In Defense of Flogging, article by Peter Moskos
  68. Sing Sing or the lash: Should America flog criminals instead of jailing them?, a review of Peter Moskos In Defense of Flogging
  69. See for instance Photograph of a public flogging in Iran (2007).
  70. See Pictures of trestle used for judicial caning in Singapore
  71. "Mayor may axe child spanking rite", BBC News Online, 21 September 2004.
  72. Ackroyd, Peter. London: The Biography, Chatto & Windus, London, 2000. ISBN 1-85619-716-6

Further reading

External links

This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 12/4/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.