Physical punishment has been used for thousands of years, in a myriad of forms and settings. In regards to children, during the twentieth century caning or blows with a ruler were popular means of behaviour management in many schools in the UK, which has gradually been phased out. Is physical punishment of children likewise losing popularity among parents?
In 1979 Sweden was the first country to outlaw the practice of physical punishment as a way of discipling children. Since then many countries have followed suit – most recently, Scotland and Wales. In England ‘reasonable chastisement’ of children is not illegal, although how ‘reasonable’ is defined is not clear. It seems strange that if I were to hit a colleague at work I could be charged with a crime, while similar acts committed against a child can be excused as ‘reasonable chastisement’.
But how is physical punishment defined? The United Nations Committee on The Rights of the Child describes it as: “…any punishment in which physical force is used and is intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.” The Committee goes on to outline different forms such punishment can take including, but not limited to, hitting, pinching, pushing or kicking. Studies have shown that these actions can have damaging effects on children and lead to impaired mental health, low self-esteem and aggression.