Still Ok To Spank? Corporal Punishment Around The World

From South Africa to Singapore to France, the question of when or where adults can physically discipline children continues to fuel debate.

More than 1 billion parents or caregivers believe corporal punishment to be necessary for the child’s education
Mathieu Pollet

PARIS — French parenting has earned a reputation as an approach just strict enough to raise well-behaved, well-adjusted children. And that has often included a swift slap or spank for a petit or petite who steps out of line. But now, a new law passed earlier this month in France officially prohibits "ordinary educational violence" — i.e. spanking —guaranteeing "violence-free education" for children, including "psychological violence."

The practice has increasingly come into question around the world, from spanking, paddling, slapping, smacking, caning, hair-pulling, ear-twisting, whipping, flogging… you name it. They're all examples of corporal punishment and are prohibited by the 1989 UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.

The Convention was signed by 140 states and yet, only about 60 of those fully implemented these restrictions in the form of national laws, and even in those cases, the practice sometimes continues because of lax enforcement.

On a global scale, a UNICEF report highlighted in November 2018 that nearly 300 million children between the ages of 2 and 4 face some type of physical discipline on a regular basis. While child welfare advocates may be gaining ground, there's clearly much to do still to ensure that minors have the protections they deserve.

Here are five countries where, one way or another, violent discipline has made the news recently.


Judicial caning is still fairly common in this island city-state, where it is applicable for more than 30 offenses and even compulsory for crimes such as rape and murder. What is more problematic is that it can be meted out to young boys, though not to girls.

School caning is also a thing and is allowed by the Ministry of Education — again, for boys only. Public caning is meant to be done at last resort. In 2016 for instance, about 30 students were punished for sharing up-skirt photos and videos of six teachers.

Not surprisingly, what is applicable in the classroom is also applicable at home. It is not unlawful for parents to cane their children in Singapore, as long as it does not constitute what can be considered as "abuse." What precisely distinguishes the two is unclear.

Whether at home, in schools or in daycare facilities, Singapore has a long way to go still if it wants to respect the terms of the 1989 convention, which it signed while at the same time defending "the judicious application of corporal punishment in the best interest of the child."

Children's rights advocates were happy, however, to see that in May, the nation's parliament passed legislation lifting the age of criminal responsibility from 7 to 10 and thus increasing the minimum age at which boys can be canned. A small victory.


Unlike Singapore, Lebanon outlawed corporal punishment in schools ⁠— all the way back in 1974. And yet, more than four decades later, the practice remains widespread due to a lack of enforcement, according to a recent Human Rights Watch (HRW) report.

In 2011, a national survey conducted by Beirut's Saint Joseph University found that 76% of students interviewed had been victims to violence from teachers or staff. And many studies concede that this ongoing practice has a direct impact on the country's dropout rate.

A penal code reform in 2014 tried to tackle this issue by removing an exemption that teachers had been using as a legal loophole. Until then, teachers were allowed to inflict "culturally accepted" levels of physical punishment without being held accountable. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child wants Lebanon to go further still and pass new legislation criminalizing corporal corporal punishment "however light, in all settings."

The story of Fadi, one of 51 children interviewed by HRW, is representative of the situation. He was diagnosed with leukemia when he was five and takes medications that make it hard for him to pay full attention in class. His school teachers, on the grounds that they could not grant him any "special treatment," kept abusing him physically and verbally.

In its report, the New York City-based rights group also mentioned a boy whose nose was broken twice, and a girl who was wrongly accused of cheating and beaten up.


The new law, passed July 2, is hardly self-evident in a country where 85% of parents admit to having slapped or spanked their children in the past, and where the right to "physically discipline" their offspring has long been seen as a normal educational tool.

Lawmakers first tried to take on spanking in 2009, unsuccessfully. Seven years later, the parliament again visited the issue, approving a law that was very similar to the legislation passed this month. In that case, though, the French Constitutional Council blocked the move on a technicality.

Even now there are still sectors of the French population that oppose the new law on grounds that it will lead to a "society of little tyrants" — of spoiled children, in other words.


Corporal punishment, mostly paddling and spanking, is still permitted in public schools in 19 states — mostly in the so-called Bible Belt — and in private schools in all but two of the country's 50 states.

For the 2013-2014 school year, roughly 106,000 American children are estimated to have been punished physically. More alarming still is that such punishment are disproportionately meted out to black and/or disabled children. A study pointed out that in Alabama and Mississippi, for instance, black children were more than five times as likely as white children to face such disciplinary measures.

Percentage of public schools reporting any corporal punishment by state in 2011-2012 – Source: Society for Research in Child Development

A 1977 Supreme Court decision, Ingraham v. Wright, stated that corporal punishment in school was constitutional, leaving states to decide whether to allow it. While it's still culturally accepted in some places, paddling is de facto never used in many because school districts and boards have banned or restricted it. Just last year, the last county in North Carolina to still use corporal punishment in schools voted finally to ban the practice.

New Mexico, in 2011, was the latest state to prohibit corporal punishment outright in schools, but others have yet to follow suit. In a letter to governors and chief state school officers in 2016, the then-U.S. education secretary, John B. King, Jr, urged states to change their laws. "This practice has no place in the public schools of a modern nation that plays such an essential role in the advancement and protection of civil and human rights," he wrote.


Twenty-three years after banning corporal punishment in schools, South Africa continues to debate the issue. And the practice is still allowed in homes, where under South African common law, parents are entitled "to inflict moderate and reasonable chastisement on a child" — for now, at least.

In 2017 a high court ruled corporal punishment to be unconstitutional. But the decision was contested by Freedom of Religion South Africa, a Christian organization. The case has now made its way to the constitutional court, which is expected to render a decision later this year.

Some teachers, in the meantime, continue to argue that the ban on corporal punishment in schools deprives them of a tool to control unruly students. The situation there is a good example of how cultural norms can be slow to change, especially in a country with such a striking history of violence.

But that's also an argument for why policy changes from on high can be so important. Perhaps tackling violence from infancy will help end the vicious circle. As Ndabenhle Mdluli, a principal, argued during a round table discussion at the University of KwaZulu-Natal​:

"The only value of corporal punishment is that it takes us deep into becoming a violent society when we should be a caring one. We need to find ways to move constructively forward to create a peaceful society."

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A tribute to the 30,000 Iranian political prisoners murdered in Iran in 1988

Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank and Bertrand Hauger

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.



• Taliban ask to speak at UN: With global leaders gathered in New York for the 76th meeting of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan's new rulers say their country's previously accredited United Nations ambassador no longer represents the country, and have demanded a new Taliban envoy speak instead. Afghanistan is scheduled to give the final intervention next Monday to the General Assembly, and a UN committee must now rule who can speak.

• Four corpses found on Belarus border with Poland: The discovery of bodies of four people on Belarus-Poland border who appear to have died from hypothermia are raising new accusations that Belarus is pushing migrants to the eastern border of the European Union, possibly in retaliation over Western sanctions following the contested reelection of the country's strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The discovery comes amid a surge of largely Afghani and Iraqi migrants attempting to enter Poland in recent weeks.

• China to stop building coal-burning power plants abroad: Under pressure to limit emissions to meet Paris climate agreement goals, China announces an end to funding future projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries through its Belt and Road initiative.

• Turkey ratifies Paris climate agreement: Following a year of wildfires and flash floods, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at the UN that Turkey will become the last G-20 country to ratify the emissions-limiting accords. Turkey already signed the agreement in 2016, but has yet to hold a vote in parliament.

• Mass evacuations following Canary Islands volcano: More than 6,000 people have fled the Spanish archipelago as heavy flows of lava have buried hundreds of homes. Four earthquakes have also hit the Canaries since the Sunday eruption, which could also cause other explosions and the release of toxic gas.

• Rare earthquake hits Melbourne: The 5.9 magnitude quake struck near Melbourne in southern Australia, with aftershocks going as far Adelaide, Canberra and Launceston. Videos shared on social media show at least one damaged building, with power lines disrupted in Australia's second largest city. No injuries have been reported.

• The evolutionary tale of tails: Charles Darwin first discovered that humans evolved to lose this biological trait. But only now are New York scientists showing that it was a single genetic tweak that could have caused this shift, while our monkey relatives kept their backside appendages.


"The roof of Barcelona" — El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world. Work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882 as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. The Barcelona-based daily reports that a press conference Tuesday confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years. Although it is currently the second tallest spire of the complex, it will become the highest point of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated "great cross."


Latin America, the next mecca for digital nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.

💻🏖️ Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all. Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote on Twitter, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

🧳 While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050. Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

💰 In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work. It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.

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$2.1 billion

Google announced yesterday it will spend $2.1 billion to buy a sprawling Manhattan office building, in one of the largest sales of a building in U.S. history. The tech giant plans on growing its New York workforce to more than 14,000 people.


It is sickening and shameful to see this kind of president give such a lie-filled speech on the international stage.

— Opposition Brazilian congresswoman Vivi Reis in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's inflammatory 12-minute speech at the UN General Assembly. The unvaccinated head of state touted untested COVID-19 cures, criticized public health measures and boasted that the South American country's environmental protections were the best in the world.

✍️ Newsletter by Anne-Sophie Goninet, Hannah Steinkopf-Frank & Bertrand Hauger

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