Childhood is a delicate, sensitive and vulnerable period which requires considerate care and understanding. However, this vital phase is overlooked in many countries where some of the parents and teachers, by their very nature think that it is important to apply physical punishments to the children in order to tame their activities and to guide them to the right tracks (UNICEF, 2015).
Although very little survey data exists in this context, there are testimonies from students, parents as well as reported incidences in the media, which suggest that corporal punishment is a common problem in many schools across the globe.
This research aims to investigate the current issues of corporal punishment worldwide. First, it will look into the characteristics and some countries’ regulations related to this issue. Then, there will be a summary of causes and effects leading to the voice from students, parents and teachers for the issue. Finally, recommendations will point out solutions to the issues. The data for the research is obtained through the literature review and analysis of most recent related policies and interviews.
Definition and Forms of School Corporal Punishment
School corporal punishment refers to causing deliberate pain or discomfort in response to undesired behaviours by students in schools (Holas, 2015). In practice, school corporal punishment often involves striking students either across the buttocks or on the hands with an implement such as a rattan cane, wooden paddle, slipper, leather strap or wooden yardstick (Gershoff, Purtell, ; Holas, 2015). Less commonly but especially at the elementary school level, corporal punishment could also include spanking or smacking students with the open hand. Moreover, forms of administered assault that does not involve physical acts or required objects are also considered as corporal punishment (Ba-Saddik ; Hattab, 2013). For example, teachers punish children by forcing them to stand in painful positions, to stand in the sun for long durations, to sit in an “invisible chair” for long durations, to hold or carry heavy objects, to dig holes and to kneel on small objects such as stones or rice (Ba-Saddik ; Hattab, 2013; Beazley et al., 2006; Feinstein ; Mwahombela, 2010).
Legal Status and Global Prevalence of School Corporal Punishment
Research showed that corporal punishment was legally prohibited in schools in 128 countries and was allowed in the remainder of 69 countries (Global Initiative, 2016). Even though, most of the countries are legally banning the school corporal punishment. United Nation Secretary General’s Study on Violence against Children reported that there are only 2.4% of the world’s children are currently legally protected from corporal punishment in all settings (UNICEF, 2014). This is due to corporal punishment continuing to occur in schools throughout the world, both in countries where it is legal and in countries where it is banned, leading to children being subject to legalized assault at their schools (Covell ; Becker, 2011; Plan Interanion, 2012).
The study of the prevalence of school corporal punishment in 63 countries showed that 29 of these countries have legally banned corporal punishment from schools. Yet the rates of corporal punishment range from 13% to 97% (Global Initiative, 2016). South Africa banned school corporal punishment when it transitioned to a new government and a new constitution that valued the rights of children in 1996. However, it was reported that corporal punishment continued to be a regular part of education in South Africa (Gershoff, 2017). These are the consequences of the frequent poorly enforced practices in countries where corporal punishment is legally banned (Payet ; Franchi, 2008).
Factors that cause children to suffer in schools
Religion and Traditional Culture
According to the bible, corporal punishment is considered as punitive in nature. The Holy Bible is in support of reasonable corporal punishment as can be seen in the book of proverbs chapter 22, verse 15 and proverb chapter 23, verse 12-14 “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child but the rod of correction shall drive it from him” (proverb 22:15). “Withhold not correction from the child for if thou beatest him with rod, he shall not die” (proverb 23:13). “Thy shalt beat him with the rod and shall deliver his soul from hell” (proverb 23:14). The theological and doctrine of Christian derive from the bible gives the impression that it is wrong to ban corporal punishment in school and at home. (Ogbe, 2015).
Violation of children rights is also a product of the cultural values (Ember ; Ember, 2005; Bartholdson, 2001). For example, in India, people have taken this custom very serious, a verse of Chanakya, a famous Hindu philosopher mentions that “excessive of affection breeds flaws and admonition good qualities”. This practice is rooted and so common to such an extent that parents who are unable to handle their children give schools permission to carry out such disciplining tactics (Chaturvedi, 2009).
Method of Disciplinary and Teachers’ Perception
The findings of studies by Scarr (1995), Flynn (1996) and Ramsburg (1997) stated that corporal punishment or spanking is usually considered as a primary discipline method in most countries. Teachers and school administrators consider corporal punishment as an effective and non-detrimental means of instilling discipline (Songül, 2009; Baumrind, Larzelere & Cowan, 2002). Further qualitative studies have shown that teachers, parents and often children themselves suggest that corporal punishment in schools improves academic performance and corrects children’s bad behaviours (Parkes and Heslop, 2011; Rojas, 2011; Nguyen and Tran, 2013; Marcus, 2014; Morrow and Singh, 2014). If students attend class, they will feel embarrassed whenever they are punished; as a result, they spend more time doing homework and reviewing previous knowledge before going to school (Tran interview, 2018).
Voices from students, parents and teachers
Even though the Vietnamese government has legally banned corporal punishment, this practice has been poorly enforced. When being asked about the issue, Tran, a Vietnamese high school student, revealed that: “I do not like the violence disciplinary method that my teacher use. I am emotionally hurt whenever she punished me” (Tran interview, 2018). In addition, as stated by Mrs Ha (Ha interview, 2018) the disciplinary methods that applied in some education sectors is cruel indeed, but my son’s school has been accredited from Ministry of Education and Training; therefore, I believe that the punishments that teachers apply whenever the students violate the school rules are to drive them to the right track. Such punishments do not involve in physical harassments. Other interviews with teachers and children in Kathmandu, conducted by UNICEF also shared the same point of views. The interviews revealed one of children’s voices: “it happens and we accept it. If we do something wrong, we must be punished” (UNICEF, 2016). Meanwhile, Mrs Le stated: “For many years as a teacher, sometimes I must raise my voice and punish the students who are making trouble during the lessons in a certain optimum level, but not physically hurt my students because that is unacceptable (Le interview, 2018).
• It is important to amend or improve policies against corporal punishment in nations where such policies are not strictly applied. Particularly, clear definitions of what constitutes Violence Against Children in education settings should be established. An example of the country that has weak amended policies is Nepal. Section 7 of the Child Act (Government of Nepal, 1993) which states that “no child shall be subject to torture or cruel treatment” and “any act by the mother, father, family member, guardian or teacher to scold the child or give him/her minor beating for the sake of his or her interests shall not be deemed to have violated this Section (Government of Nepal, 2006; Jarewar, 2017). Due to such unclear policies, there is no explicit prohibition of corporal punishment in schools in Nepalese education sectors.
Strategies in Education Sectors/Schools
• One of the suggestions made by Tran (Tran interview, 2018) is that the education sectors should consider employing professional or well-trained teachers only. This could be efficient as the professional teachers would teach students in a correct manner without using violence.
• It is necessary to develop/reinforce tools to help teachers move away from or reduce physical/psychological punishment levels to a lower extent such as cleaning table or mopping the classroom floor (Nguyen interview, 2018).
It is clear to see that there are different opinions from students, parents and teachers about punishments as well as their pros and cons. In spite of some pros, most research and opinions agreed that school corporal punishment is a fact of life for millions of children around the world, and the consequences that corporal punishment has left behind were the huge impacts in both early and later life of many students to a certain extent. It is encouraging that 128 countries worldwide have banned corporal punishment, but there is still much work to be done to maintain and enforce this practice properly as well as to educate teachers about alternatives to corporal punishment so that they completely abandon its use in schools. Legislative reform, advocacy, and education are necessary to ensure that school corporal punishment is abandoned so that children can attend school without the fear of violence at the hands of school personnel.