School corporal punishment

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1888 cartoon depicting J.S. Kerr, an Australian proponent of punishment by caning

School corporal punishment refers to causing deliberate pain or discomfort in response to undesired behaviour by students in schools. It often involves striking the student either across the buttocks[1] or on the hands,[2] with an implement such as a rattan cane, wooden paddle, slipper, leather strap or wooden yardstick. Less commonly, it could also include spanking or smacking the student with the open hand, especially at the elementary school level.

In the English-speaking world, the use by schools of corporal punishment has historically been justified by the common-law doctrine in loco parentis, whereby teachers are considered authority figures granted the same rights as parents to punish children in their care.

Advocates of school corporal punishment argue that it provides an immediate response to indiscipline and that the student is quickly back in the classroom learning, as opposed to suspension from school. Opponents, including a number of medical and psychological societies, along with human-rights groups, argue that physical punishment is ineffective in the long term, interferes with learning, leads to antisocial behaviour as well as various forms of mental distress, and is a form of violence that breaches the rights of children.

Poland in 1783 was the first nation to outlaw corporal punishment in schools. As of 2015, most developed countries have abolished the practice, with the exception of some parts of the United States, some Australian states, and Singapore. It is still in common use in a number of countries in Africa and Asia. It was banned in public schools throughout Britain in 1986.


Medieval schoolboy birched on the bare buttocks.

Corporal punishment in the context of schools in the late 20th and early 21st centuries has been variously defined as: causing deliberate pain to a child in response to the child's undesired behaviour and/or language,[3] "purposeful infliction of bodily pain or discomfort by an official in the educational system upon a student as a penalty for unacceptable behavior",[4] and "intentional application of physical pain as a means of changing behavior" (not the occasional use of physical restraint to protect student or others from immediate harm).[5]


Corporal punishment used to be prevalent in schools in many parts of the world, but in recent decades it has been outlawed in most of Europe, most of South America, as well as in Canada, Korea, South Africa, New Zealand and several other countries. It remains commonplace in a number of countries in Africa, Southeast Asia, and the Middle East (see list of countries, below).

While most U.S. states have outlawed corporal punishment in state schools, it continues to be allowed mainly in the Southern and Western United States.[6] According to the United States Department of Education, more than 216,000 students were subjected to corporal punishment during the 2008–09 school year.[7]

Much of the traditional culture that surrounds corporal punishment in school, at any rate in the English-speaking world, derives largely from British practice in the 19th and 20th centuries, particularly as regards the caning of teenage boys.[8] There is a vast amount of literature on this, in both popular and serious culture.[9][10] Britain itself outlawed the practice in 1987 for state schools[11][12][13] and more recently for all schools.[14][15]

The doctrine of in loco parentis lets school officials stand in for parents as comparable authority figures.[4] The doctrine has its origins in an English common-law precedent of 1770.[5]

1839 caricature by George Cruikshank of a school flogging

Many schools in Singapore and Malaysia use caning (for boys) as a routine official punishment for misconduct, as also some African countries. In some Middle Eastern countries whipping is used. (See list of countries, below.)

In most of continental Europe, school corporal punishment has been banned for several decades or longer, depending on the country (See list of countries, below).

From the 1917 Russian revolution onwards, corporal punishment was outlawed in the Soviet Union, because it was deemed contrary to Soviet ideology.[16] Communists in other countries such as Britain took the lead in campaigning against school corporal punishment, which they viewed as a symptom of the decadence of capitalist education systems.[17] In the 1960s, Soviet visitors to western schools expressed shock at the caning of boys there.[18] Other communist regimes followed suit: for instance, corporal punishment was "unknown" by students in North Korea in 2007.[19] In mainland China, corporal punishment in schools was outlawed in 1986,[20] although the practice remains common, especially in rural areas.[21]

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, there are three broad rationales for the use of corporal punishment in schools: beliefs, based in traditional religion, that adults have a right, if not a duty, to physically punish misbehaving children; a disciplinary philosophy that corporal punishment builds character, being necessary for the development of a child's conscience and their respect for adult authority figures; and beliefs concerning the needs and rights of teachers, specifically that corporal punishment is essential for maintaining order and control in the classroom.[4]

Effects on students

School officials and policymakers often rely on personal anecdotes to argue that school corporal punishment improves students' behavior and achievement.[22] However, there is a lack of empirical evidence showing that corporal punishment leads to better control in the classroom. In particular, evidence does not suggest that it enhances moral character development, increases students' respect for teachers or other authority figures, or offers greater security for teachers.[23]

A number of medical, pediatric or psychological societies have issued statements opposing all corporal punishment in schools, citing such outcomes as poorer academic achievement, increases in antisocial behaviour, injuries to students, and an unwelcoming learning environment. They include the American Medical Association,[24] the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,[3] the American Academy of Pediatrics,[4][25][26] the Society for Adolescent Medicine,[5][27] the American Psychological Association,[28] the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health,[29][30] the Royal College of Psychiatrists,[31] the Canadian Paediatric Society[32] and the Australian Psychological Society,[33] as well as the United States' National Association of Secondary School Principals.[34]

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), research shows that corporal punishment is less effective than other methods of behaviour management in schools, and "praise, discussions regarding values, and positive role models do more to develop character, respect, and values than does corporal punishment".[4] They say that evidence links corporal punishment of students to a number of adverse outcomes, including: "increased aggressive and destructive behaviour, increased disruptive classroom behaviour, vandalism, poor school achievement, poor attention span, increased drop-out rate, school avoidance and school phobia, low self-esteem, anxiety, somatic complaints, depression, suicide and retaliation against teachers".[4] The AAP recommends a number of alternatives to corporal punishment including various nonviolent behaviour-management strategies, modifications to the school environment, and increased support for teachers.[4]

Injuries to students

An estimated 1 to 2 percent of physically punished students in the United States are seriously injured, to the point of needing medical attention. According to the AAP and the Society for Adolescent Medicine, these injuries have included bruises, abrasions, broken bones, whiplash injury, muscle damage, brain injury, and even death.[4][5] Other reported injuries to students include "sciatic nerve damage"[4] "extensive hematomas", and "life-threatening fat hemorrhage".[5]

Promotion of violence

The AAP cautions that there is a risk of corporal punishment in schools fostering the impression among students that violence is an appropriate means for managing others' behaviour.[4] According to the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, "Corporal punishment signals to the child that a way to settle interpersonal conflicts is to use physical force and inflict pain".[3] And according to the Society for Adolescent Medicine, "The use of corporal punishment in schools promotes a very precarious message: that violence is an acceptable phenomenon in our society. It sanctions the notion that it is meritorious to be violent toward our children, thereby devaluing them in society's eyes. It encourages children to resort to violence because they see their authority figures or substitute parents doing it [...] Violence is not acceptable and we must not support it by sanctioning its use by such authority figures as school officials".[5]


The Society for Adolescent Medicine recommends developing "a milieu of effective communication, in which the teacher displays an attitude of respect for the students", as well as instruction that is stimulating and appropriate to student's abilities, various nonviolent behaviour modification techniques, and involving students and parents in making decisions about school matters such as rules and educational goals. They suggest that student self-governance can be an effective alternative for managing disruptive classroom behaviour, while stressing the importance of adequate training and support for teachers.[5]

The AAP remarks that there has been "no reported increase in disciplinary problems in schools following the elimination of corporal punishment" according to evidence.[4]

Student rights

A number of international human-rights organizations including the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have stated that physical punishment of any kind is a violation of children's human rights.[35][36][37]

According to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, "Children do not lose their human rights by virtue of passing through the school gates [...] the use of corporal punishment does not respect the inherent dignity of the child nor the strict limits on school discipline".[38] The Committee interprets Article 19 of the Convention on the rights of the child, which obliges member states to "take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse […] while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child", to imply a prohibition on all forms of corporal punishment.

Other international human-rights bodies supporting prohibition of corporal punishment of children in all settings, including schools, include the European Committee of Social Rights and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child. In addition, the obligation of member states to prohibit corporal punishment in schools and elsewhere was affirmed in the 2009 Cairo Declaration on the Convention on the Rights of the Child and Islamic Jurisprudence.[39]

By country

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

According to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, all forms of corporal punishment in schools are outlawed in 125 countries as of May 2015 (46 of these countries also prohibit corporal punishment of children in the home).[39]


Banned in 1813, corporal punishment was re-legalised in 1817 and punishments by physical pain lasted until the 1980s. The instruments were rebenques, slappings in the face and others.[40][41] All corporal punishment has now been prohibited; the ban is set to come into effect in 2016.[42]


In Australia, laws on corporal punishment in schools are determined at individual state or territory level.[43][44] While still legal in private schools in some states, in practice, very few schools impose corporal punishment.[45]

State Government schools Non-government schools
Victoria Banned in 1983.[46] Banned in 2006.
Queensland[47] Banned in 1994.[48] Not banned.[49]
New South Wales[50] First banned in 1987.[46][51][52] Ban repealed in 1989.[53]
Banned again in 1995.[54][55]
Banned in 1997.[54]
Tasmania[56] Banned in 1999.[57][58] Banned in 1999.[57]
Australian Capital Territory[59] Banned in 1988.[60][61] Banned in 1997.
Northern Territory[62] Not banned, but contrary to Education Department policy.[63] Banned in 2009.
South Australia Banned in 1991. Not banned.
Western Australia Banned in 1999.[64]
Effectively abolished by Education Department policy in 1987.[65]
Banned in 2015.[66][67]


Banned in 1974.[68]


Corporal punishment in all settings, including schools, was prohibited in Bolivia in 2014. According to the Children and Adolescents Code, "The child and adolescent has the right to good treatment, comprising a non-violent upbringing and education... Any physical, violent and humiliating punishment is prohibited".[69]


Corporal punishment in all settings, including schools, was prohibited in Brazil in 2014. According to an amendment to the Code on Children and Adolescents 1990, "Children and Adolescents are entitled to be educated and cared for without the use of physical punishment or cruel or degrading treatment as forms of correction, discipline, education or any other pretext".[70]

Burma (Myanmar)

Caning is commonly used by teachers as a punishment in schools.[71] The cane is applied on the students' buttocks, calves or palms of the hands in front of the class. Tramline cane marks could be left. Sit-ups with ears pulled and arms crossed, kneeling, and standing on the bench in the classroom are other forms of corporal punishments used in schools. Common reasons for punishment include talking in class, not finishing homework, mistakes made with classwork, fighting and truancy.[72][73]


In Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law v. Canada (2004) the Supreme Court outlawed school corporal punishment.[74] In public schools, the usual implement was a rubber/canvas strap applied to the hands,[75] while private schools often used a paddle or cane administered to the student's posterior.[76][77] In many parts of Canada, 'the strap' had not been used in public schools since the 1970s or even earlier: thus, it has been claimed that it had not been used in Quebec since the 1960s,[78] and in Toronto it was banned in 1971.[2] However, some schools in Alberta had been using the strap up until the ban in 2004.[79]

School Corporal Punishment Bans in Canadian Provinces

Some Canadian provinces banned corporal punishment in public schools prior to the national ban in 2004. They are, in chronological order by year of provincial ban:[citation needed]

(People's Republic of) China

Corporal punishment in China was officially banned after the communist revolution in 1949. The Compulsory Education Law of 1986 states: "It shall be forbidden to inflict physical punishment on students".[20] In practice, beatings by schoolteachers are common, especially in rural areas.[21][80]

Costa Rica

All corporal punishment, both in school and in the home, has been banned since 2008.

Czech Republic

Corporal punishment is outlawed under Article 31 of the Education Act.[81]


A 1998 study found that random physical punishment (not proper formal corporal punishment) was being used extensively by teachers in Egypt to punish behavior they regarded as unacceptable. Around 80% of the boys and 60% of the girls were punished by teachers, using their hands, sticks, straps, shoes, punches and kicks as most common methods of administration. The most common reported injuries were bumps and contusions.[82]


The systematic use of corporal punishment has been absent from French schools since the 19th century.[83] There is no explicit legal ban on it,[84] but in 2008 a teacher was fined €500 for what some people describe as slapping a student.[85][86][87]


School corporal punishment, historically widespread, was outlawed in different states via their administrative law at different times. It was not completely abolished everywhere until 1983.[88] Since 1993, use of corporal punishment by a teacher has been a criminal offence. In that year a sentence by the Federal Court of Justice of Germany (Bundesgerichtshof, case number NStZ 1993,591) was published which overruled the previous powers enshrined in unofficial customary law (Gewohnheitsrecht) and upheld by some regional appeal courts (Oberlandesgericht, Superior State Court) even in the 1970s. They assumed a right of chastisement was a defense of justification against the accusation of "causing bodily harm" per Paragraph (=Section) 223 Strafgesetzbuch (Federal Penal Code).


Corporal punishment in Greek primary schools was banned in 1998, and in secondary schools in 2005.[89]


Corporal punishment is still used in most of India. The Delhi High Court banned its use in Delhi schools in 2000. 17 out of 29 states claim to apply the ban, though enforcement is lax.[90] A number of social and cultural groups, including Shankaracharya, are campaigning against corporal punishment in India. In many states, corporal punishment is still practised within most schools. Society for Prevention of Injuries & Corporal Punishment (SPIC) is actively running awareness campaigns to educate the teachers and students through conferences and scientific publications.[91]


In schools in Ireland, corporal punishment was banned by regulation in 1982, and its use became a criminal offence in 1996. [92]


Banned in 1928.[93]


Although banned in 1947, corporal punishment is still commonly found in schools in the 2010s and particularly widespread in school sports clubs. In late 1987, about 60% of junior high school teachers felt it was necessary, with 7% believing it was necessary in all conditions, 59% believing it should be applied sometimes and 32% disapproving of it in all circumstances; while at elementary (primary) schools, 2% supported it unconditionally, 47% felt it was necessary and 49% disapproved.[94] As recent as December 2012, a high school student committed suicide after having been constantly beaten by his basketball coach.[95] An education ministry survey found that more than 10,000 students received corporal punishment from more than 5,000 teachers across Japan in 2012 fiscal year alone.[96]


Corporal punishment in schools was banned in 1845 and became a criminal offence in 1974 (Aggravated Assault on Minors under Authority) [97][98]


A picture showing the marks left on a Malaysian female student's palm after a caning

Caning is a common form of discipline in many Malaysian schools. Legally it should be applied only to male students, but the idea of making the caning of girls lawful has recently been debated. This would be applied to the palm of the hand, whereas boys are typically caned across the seat of the trousers.[99]


Banned in 1920.[100]

New Zealand

Corporal punishment in New Zealand schools was abolished in 1987, but wasn't abolished legislatively until 23 July 1990, when Section 139A of the Education Act 1989 was inserted by the Education Amendment Act 1990. Section 139A prohibits anyone employed by a school or ECE provider, or anyone supervising or controlling students on the school's behalf, from using force by way of correction or punishment towards any student at or in relation to the school or the student under their supervision or control.[101] Teachers who administer corporal punishment can be found guilty of physical assault, resulting in termination and cancellation of teacher registration, and possibly criminal charges, with a maximum penalty of five years' imprisonment.[102]

As enacted, the law had a loophole: parents, provided they were not school staff, could still discipline their children on school grounds. In early 2007, a southern Auckland Christian school was found to be using this loophole to discipline students by corporal punishment, by making the student's parents administer the punishment.[103] This loophole was closed in May 2007 by the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007, which enacted a blanket ban on parents administering corporal punishment to their children.


Strongly restricted in 1889. Completely banned in 1936.[citation needed]


School corporal punishment in Pakistan is not very common in modern educational institutions although it is still used in schools across the rural parts of the country as a means of enforcing student discipline. The method has been criticised by some children's rights activists who claim that many cases of corporal punishment in schools have resulted in physical and mental abuse of schoolchildren. According to one report, corporal punishment is a key reason for school dropouts and subsequently, street children, in Pakistan; as many as 35,000 high school pupils in Pakistan are said to drop out of the education system each year because they have been punished or abused in school.[104]


Corporal punishment is prohibited in private and public schools.[105]


In 1783, Poland became the first country in the world to prohibit corporal punishment.[106] 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. Today, the ban of corporal punishment in all forms is vested in Constitution of Poland[107][108]


Banned in 1917.[16] Article 336 of the Labor Code of the Russian Federation states that a teacher who has used corporal punishment to a pupil (even once), shall be dismissed.


Corporal punishment is legal in Singapore schools (for male students only), and fully encouraged by the government in order to maintain strict discipline.[109] Only a light rattan cane may be used.[110] This must be administered in a formal ceremony by the school management after due deliberation, not by classroom teachers. Most secondary schools (whether independent, autonomous or government-controlled), and also some primary schools, use caning to deal with misconduct by boys.[111] At the secondary level, the rattan strokes are nearly always delivered to the student's clothed buttocks. The Ministry of Education has stipulated a maximum of six strokes per occasion. In some cases the punishment is carried out in front of the rest of the school instead of in private.[112]

South Africa

The use of corporal punishment in schools was prohibited by the South African Schools Act, 1996. According to section 10 of the act:

(1) No person may administer corporal punishment at a school to a learner.

(2) Any person who contravenes subsection (1) is guilty of an offence and liable on conviction to a sentence which could be imposed for assault.[113]

In the case of Christian Education South Africa v Minister of Education the Constitutional Court rejected a claim that the constitutional right to religious freedom entitles private Christian schools to impose corporal punishment.

South Korea

Since 2011, all forms of caning are completely banned in the liberal regions of Seoul Metropolitan City, Gyeonggi Province, Gangwon Province, Gwangju Metropolitan City, North Jeolla Province and South Jeolla Province. Other conservative regions are governed by a national law enacted in 2011 which states that while caning is generally forbidden, it can be used indirectly to maintain school discipline.[114]

Back in 2008, a man arrested and identified as Kim by the police confessed that 21 years earlier as a 10th grader, a teacher identified as Song accused him of cheating in a test and beat him about 100 times, then after years of grudge, Kim killed Song after demanding an apology unsuccessfully.[115]


Banned in 1985.[116]


Corporal punishment at school has been prohibited in folkskolestadgan (the elementary school ordinance) since 1 January 1958. Its use by ordinary teachers in grammar schools had been outlawed in 1928.[117]


In 2006 Taiwan made corporal punishment in the school system illegal,[118] but it is still known to be practised (see Corporal punishment in Taiwan).


Corporal punishment in schools is illegal under the Ministry of Education Regulation on Student Punishment (2005) and the National Committee on Child Protection Regulation on Working Procedures of Child Protection Officers Involved in Promoting Behaviour of Students (2005), pursuant to article 65 of the Child Protection Act.[119]


In Ukraine, "physical or mental violence" against children is forbidden by the Constitution (Art.52.2) and the Law on Education (Art.51.1, since 1991) which states that students and other learners have the right “to the protection from any form of exploitation, physical and psychological violence, actions of pedagogical and other employees who violate the rights or humiliate their honour and dignity”.[120] Standard instructions for teachers provided by the Ministry of Science and Education state that a teacher who has used corporal punishment to a pupil (even once), shall be dismissed.

United Arab Emirates

A federal law was implemented in 1998 which banned school corporal punishment. The law applied to all schools, both public and private.[121][122] Any teacher who engages in the practice would not only lose their job and teaching license, but will also face criminal prosecution for engaging in violence against minors and will also face child abuse charges.[123]

United Kingdom

In state-run schools, and also in private schools where at least part of the funding came from government, corporal punishment was outlawed by the British Parliament in 1986. In other private schools, it was banned in 1998 (England and Wales), 2000 (Scotland) and 2003 (Northern Ireland).[124]

The implement used in many state and private schools in England and Wales was often a rattan cane, struck either across the student's hands or (especially in the case of teenage boys) the clothed buttocks. "Slippering"—striking the buttocks with a rubber-soled gym shoe, or plimsoll shoe—was widely used in many schools, for example King's School, Macclesfield, a boys grammar school in Cheshire.[125] In a few English cities, a strap was used instead of the cane.[126] In Scotland a leather strap, the tawse, administered to the palms of the hands, was universal in state schools,[127] but some private schools used the cane.[128]

Prior to the ban in private schools in England, the "slippering" of a student at an independent boarding school was challenged in 1993 before the European Court of Human Rights. The Court ruled 5–4 in that case that the punishment was not severe enough to infringe the student's "freedom from degrading punishment" under article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights. The dissenting judges argued that the ritualised nature of the punishment, given after several days and without parental consent, should qualify it as "degrading punishment".[129]

R (Williamson) v Secretary of State for Education and Employment (2005) was an unsuccessful challenge to the prohibition of corporal punishment contained in the Education Act 1996, by several headmasters of private Christian schools who argued that it was a breach of their religious freedom.

In response to a 2008 poll of 6,162 UK teachers by the Times Educational Supplement, 22% of secondary school teachers and 16% of primary school teachers supported "the right to use corporal punishment in extreme cases". The National Union of Teachers said that it "could not support the views expressed by those in favour of hitting children".[130][131]

United States

There is no federal law addressing corporal punishment in public or private schools. In 1977, the Supreme Court ruling in Ingraham v. Wright held that the Eighth Amendment clause prohibiting "cruel and unusual punishments" did not apply to school students, and that teachers could punish children without parental permission.

As of 2015, 31 states and the District of Columbia have banned corporal punishment in public schools, though in some of these there is no explicit prohibition. Corporal punishment is also unlawful in private schools in Iowa and New Jersey. In 19 U.S. states, corporal punishment is lawful in both public and private schools.[132]


Corporal punishment in all settings, including schools, was prohibited in Venezuela in 2007. According to the Law for the Protection of Children and Adolescents, "All children and young people have a right to be treated well. This right includes a non-violent education and upbringing... Consequently, all forms of physical and humiliating punishment are prohibited".[133]

See also


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