School corporal punishment

Legality of corporal punishment in the United States
Legality of corporal punishment in Europe
  Corporal punishment prohibited in both schools and the home
  Corporal punishment prohibited in schools, but allowed in the home
  Corporal punishment allowed in both schools and the home

School corporal punishment covers official punishments of school students for misbehaviour that involve striking the student a given number of times in a generally methodical and premeditated ceremony. The punishment is usually administered either across the buttocks[1] or on the hands,[2] with an implement specially kept for the purpose such as a rattan cane, wooden paddle, slipper or leather strap. Less commonly, it could also include spanking or smacking the student in a deliberate manner on a specific part of the body with the open hand, especially at the elementary school level.

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, rather than being suspended from school. Opponents believe that other disciplinary methods are equally or more effective. Some regard it as tantamount to violence or abuse.

In the United States and the United Kingdom, and generally in the English-speaking world, the use by schools of corporal punishment has historically been covered by the common law doctrine of in loco parentis, whereby a school has the same rights over a minor as its parent.

In most places nowadays where it is allowed, corporal punishment in public schools is governed by official regulations laid down by governments or local education authorities,[3] defining such things as the implement to be used, the number of strokes that may be administered, which members of staff may carry it out, and whether parents must be informed or consulted. Depending on how narrowly the regulations are drawn and how rigorously enforced, this has the effect of making the punishment a structured ceremony that is legally defensible in a given jurisdiction and of inhibiting staff from lashing out on the spur of the moment.

The first country in the world to prohibit corporal punishment was Poland in 1783 [4].


Geographical scope

Medieval schoolboy birched on the bare buttocks.

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 and in Canada, Japan, South Africa, New Zealand and several other countries (see list of countries, below). It remains commonplace in a number of countries in Africa, south-east Asia and the Middle East (see list of countries, below).

In the United States, the Supreme Court ruling in Ingraham v. Wright (1977) held that school corporal punishment does not violate the federal Constitution. Paddling continues to be used to a significant extent in a number of Southern states, though there has been a sharp decline in its incidence over the past 20 years.

In some Asian and African countries where it has been theoretically outlawed, it is still used in practice.

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.[5] There is a vast amount of literature on this, in both popular and serious culture.[6][7] Britain itself outlawed the practice in 1987 for state schools[8] and more recently for all schools.[9]

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. In South Korea, male and female secondary students alike are commonly spanked in school. (See list of countries, below.)

In most of continental Europe, school corporal punishment has been banned for several decades, much longer in certain countries. As a formal deliberate ceremony, it seems to have been more common in northern/Protestant countries of Germanic culture than in southern/Catholic countries of Latin culture. Caning was not completely abolished until 1967 in Denmark and 1983 in Germany. (See list of countries, below.)

From the 1917 revolution onwards, corporal punishment was outlawed in Russia and the Soviet Union as contrary to communist ideology.[10] Soviet visitors to western schools would express shock at its use.[11] Other communist regimes followed suit: for instance, corporal punishment remains outlawed in present-day North Korea[12] and (in theory) in mainland China.[13] Meanwhile, communists in other countries such as Britain took the lead in campaigning against school corporal punishment, which they claimed was a symptom of the decadence of "capitalist" education systems.[14]

Justification and criticism

Principal of John C. Calhoun Elementary in Calhoun Hills, South Carolina, David Nixon, a supporter of corporal punishment in schools, says that as soon as the student has been punished he can go back to his class and continue learning,[15] in contrast to out-of-school suspension, which removes him from the educational process[16] and gives him a free "holiday".[17]

Philip Berrigan, a Catholic priest, who taught at St. Augustine High School in New Orleans, was another supporter of corporal punishment. Berrigan said that corporal punishment saved much staff time that would otherwise have been devoted to supervising detention classes or in-school suspension, and managing the bureaucracy that goes with these punishments.[18] Parents, too, often complain about the inconvenience occasioned by penalties such as detention or Saturday school.[19]

One argument made against corporal punishments is that some research has shown it to be not as effective as positive means for managing student behaviour. These studies have linked corporal punishment to adverse physical, psychological and educational 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 teacher."[20]

Medical, pediatric or psychological societies opposing school corporal punishment include: the American Medical Association,[21] the American Academy of Pediatrics,[22][23][24] the Society for Adolescent Medicine,[25][26] the American Psychological Association,[27] the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health,[28][29] the Royal College of Psychiatrists,[30][31] the Canadian Paediatric Society[32] and the Australian Psychological Society.[33] School corporal punishment is also opposed by the (U.S.) National Association of Secondary School Principals.[34]

Country by country


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.[35][36]


In Australia, corporal punishment is banned by law in all schools in the Australian Capital Territory,[37] New South Wales,[38] and Tasmania.[39] In Victoria, it is banned in government schools but not in private schools. The state government currently has made its removal a condition of school registration.[40] Corporal punishment is banned in government schools under ministerial guidelines or local educational policy, but is lawful in private schools, in Western Australia,[41] Queensland[42] and South Australia. In the Northern Territory there is currently no legal prohibition.[43][44]


School corporal punishment was banned in 1974.[45]

Burma (Myanmar)

Caning is commonly used by teachers as a punishment in schools while the government issued directives against corporal punishment. Cane is applied on the students' buttocks, calves or palms of the hands in front of the class. Tramline cane marks could be left. [46] 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.[47][48]


In Canadian Foundation for Children, Youth and the Law v. Canada (2004) the Supreme Court outlawed school corporal punishment.[49] In public schools, the usual implement was a rubber/canvas strap applied to the hands,[50] while private schools often used a paddle or cane administered to the student's posterior.[51][52] 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,[53] 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.[54]

School Corporal Punishment Bans in Canadian Provinces

Every province except Alberta and Manitoba had banned corporal punishment in public schools before the above-mentioned 2004 ban, though British Columbia and Manitoba were the only provinces to ban it in both public and private schools. They are, in chronological order by year of provincial ban:[citation needed]

People's Republic of China

All corporal punishment has been theoretically banned since the communist revolution in 1949. In practice, students are caned or paddled in some schools.[55][56]

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.[57]


A 1998 study found that physical punishment is used extensively by teachers in Egypt to punish behavior they regard as unacceptable. Around 80% of the boys and 60% of the girls were punished by teachers, using their hands, sticks, straps, shoes, and kicks as most common methods of administration. The most common reported injuries were bumps and contusions; wound and fractures. Loss of consciousness and concussion were less common.[58]


The systematic use of corporal punishment has been absent from French schools since the 19th century.[59] There is no explicit legal ban on it,[60] but in 2008 a teacher was fined for slapping a student.[61]


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.[62] At the latest since 1993 a corporal punishment by a teacher is a criminal offence. In that year a sentence by the Federal Court of Justice of Germany (NStZ 1993,591) was published which overruled the previous powers enshrined in customary law and upheld by some regional appeal courts (Oberlandesgericht) even in the 1970s. They assumed a right of chastisement was a defense of justification against the accusation of Causing bodily harm, Section 223 Strafgesetzbuch.


Corporal punishment in Greek primary schools was banned in 1998, and in secondary schools in 2005.[63]


Corporal punishment is still used in most of India. The Supreme Court of India banned its use in schools in 2000, and 17 out of 28 states claim to apply the ban, though enforcement is lax.[64] A number of social and cultural organizations, including Shunkracharya, are campaigning against corporal punishment in India. In Gujarat, and many other states, it is still used in most schools.[citation needed]


In schools in the Irish Republic, corporal punishment was banned by regulation in 1982, and its use became a criminal offence in 1996. [65]


Banned in 1928.[66]


Although legally banned in 1947, corporal punishment was still found in some schools in the 1980s. 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.[67]


A picture showing the marks left on a Malaysian female student's hand 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.[68]


It was banned in 1920.[69]

New Zealand

Corporal punishment in all schools and all early childhood education (ECE) providers was banned effective 23 July 1990 by the Education Amendment Act 1990. Among other provisions, the act inserted section 139A, entitled No corporal punishment in early childhood services or registered schools, into the Education Act 1989.[70]

Section 139A bans 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.[70] This legislation had a loophole: parents could still discipline their children on school grounds. An Auckland Christian school was found in early 2007 to be using this loophole to discipline students by corporal punishment, by making the student's parents administer the punishment.[71] This loophole was closed later in May 2007 by the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007, which banned parents from administering corporal punishment to their children.


Strongly restricted in 1889. Totally banned in 1936.


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.[72]


Corporal punishment is prohibited in private and public schools.[73]


In 1783, Poland became the first country in the world to prohibit corporal punishment [74]. 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.[75]


Banned in 1917.[10] 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.[76] Only a light rattan cane may be used.[77] 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 and one or two post-secondary institutions, use caning to deal with misconduct by boys.[78] At the secondary and post-secondary level, the rattan strokes are always delivered to the student's clothed posterior. The Ministry of Education has stipulated a maximum of six strokes per occasion. In some cases the ceremony is performed in front of the other students.

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.[79]

South Korea

Corporal punishment is lawful and in wide use in South Korean schools. It usually takes the form of disciplining the student with a stick that is too rigid and thick to be called a cane in the traditional British sense. Other "tools" such as sawn-off billiard cues and hockey sticks are used as well. It is often applied to the student's clothed buttocks, but may also be given on the calves, the soles of the feet, or the front and back of the thighs. Boys and girls alike are frequently punished in this manner by teachers for any offence in school. Government recommendations are that the stick should not be thicker than 1.5 cm (0.59 in) in diameter and that the number of strokes should not exceed 10.[80] These punishments are typically administered in a classroom or corridor with other students present, and the procedure is generally less formal and premeditated than in some other countries such as Singapore. It is common for several students to receive corporal punishment together.[81]

Recently, the Seoul Metropolitan Office of Education has announced a decree that prohibitied corporal punishment of students in elementary, junior high, and high schools. This measure has brought mixed reactions.[citation needed]


Banned in 1985.[82]


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.[83]

Republic of China (Taiwan)

In 2006 the Republic of China on Taiwan made corporal punishment in the school system illegal,[84] 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.[85]


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”.[86] 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 Kingdom

All teachers and staff at educational establishments, including nurseries, are prohibited from using physical punishment on children.[87]

In state-run schools, and also in private schools where at least part of the funding came from government, corporal punishment was outlawed by Parliament with effect from 1987. In other private schools it was banned in 1999 (England and Wales), 2000 (Scotland) and 2003 (Northern Ireland).[5] In 1993, ECtHR heard a case Costello-Roberts v. UK and held, by 5 votes to 4, that giving a seven-year-old boy three 'whacks' with a gym shoe over his trousers wasn't a forbidden degrading treatment.[88]

The implement used in many state and private schools in England and Wales was a flexible rattan cane, applied either to the student's hands or (especially in the case of teenage boys) to the seat of the trousers. Slippering was widely used as a less formal alternative. In a few English cities, a strap was used instead of the cane.[89]

In Scotland a leather strap, the tawse, administered to the palms of the hands, was universal in state schools,[90] but some private schools used the cane.[91]

More than 20 years after abolition in state schools, there persists a marked lack of consensus on corporal punishment. A 2008 poll of 6,162 UK teachers by the Times Educational Supplement found that one in five teachers, and 22% of secondary teachers, would still back the use of caning in extreme cases.[92][93] Meanwhile government research suggests that a number of British people believe that the removal of corporal punishment in schools has been a contributory factor in what is perceived to be a general decline in pupil behaviour.[94]

United States

Individual US states have the power to ban corporal punishment in their schools. Currently, it is banned in public schools in 31 U.S. states and the District of Columbia.[95] In two of these states, New Jersey[96] and Iowa,[97] it is illegal in private schools as well. The 19 states that have not banned it are mostly in the South. It is still used to a significant (though declining)[98] degree in some public schools in Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.[95]

In 1867 New Jersey became the first U.S. state to abolish corporal punishment in schools. The second was Massachusetts 104 years later in 1971. The most recent state to outlaw school corporal punishment was New Mexico in 2011.

Private schools in most states are exempt from state bans and may choose to use the paddle. Here too, most of those which actually do so are to be found in Southern states. These are largely, but by no means exclusively, Christian evangelical or fundamentalist schools.[3][99][100]

Most urban public school systems, even in states where it is permitted, have abolished corporal punishment. Statistics collected by the federal government show that the use of the paddle has been declining consistently, in all states where it is used, over at least the past 20 years. The anti-spanking campaign Center for Effective Discipline, extrapolating from federal statistics, estimates that the number of students spanked or paddled in 2006 in U.S. public schools was about 223,000.[98]

Statistics show that black and Hispanic students are more likely to be paddled than white students,[98] possibly because minority-race parents are more inclined to approve of it.[101][102] However, a study in Kentucky found that minority students were disproportionately targeted by discipline policies generally, not only corporal punishment.[103]

Federal statistics consistently show that around 80% of school paddlings in the U.S. are of boys, most likely because boys exhibit more often than girls the kinds of misbehaviour for which corporal punishment is thought appropriate.[104]

One study has alleged that students with disabilities are "subjected to corporal punishment at disproportionately high rates, approximately twice the rate of the general student population in some States".[105]

Corporal punishment in American schools is administered to the seat of the student's trousers or skirt with a specially-made wooden paddle. This often used to take place in the classroom or hallway, but nowadays the punishment is usually given privately in the principal's office.

Most public school districts lay down detailed rules as to how the ceremony is to be carried out, and in many cases these are published in the school's student-parent handbook.[3]

In 1983 a school administrator struggled with a student, trying to force her to bend over a chair to receive a paddling. During the struggle, the student fell against a desk, sustaining a serious injury to her back.[106] In order to avoid similar incidents, a school district might adopt a rule which provides, "Corporal punishment shall not be administered if it requires holding a student or struggling with a student."[107]

Increasingly, corporal punishment in US schools is, either explicitly or de facto, a matter of choice for the student. Thus, the rules of the Alexander City Schools provide, "No student is required to submit to corporal punishment."[108] Many school handbooks provide that where a student refuses to submit to a paddling, he or she will receive some other punishment instead, such as suspension. Students are unlikely nowadays to be forcibly restrained while being paddled, as happened in the 1970 case which came to the Supreme Court in 1977 as Ingraham v. Wright.[109]

Many school districts also offer parents an opportunity to state whether or not they wish corporal punishment to be used on their sons and daughters. Typically, the parents fill out a form which is filed in the school office. In many districts this is an "opt-out" system. In others an "opt-in" system applies, whereby no student is so punished without explicit parental consent.

A bill to end the use of corporal punishment in schools was introduced into the United States House of Representatives in June 2010 during the 111th Congress.[110][111] The bill, H.R. 5628,[112] was referred to the United States House Committee on Education and Labor where it was not brought up for a vote. As of June 2011 a similar bill has not been re-introduced in the 112th Congress. A previous bill "to deny funds to educational programs that allow corporal punishment"[113] was introduced into the U.S. House of Representatives in 1991 by Representative Major R. Owens. That bill, H.R. 1522, did not become law.

U.S. states banning school corporal punishment

Thirty-one U.S. states and the District of Columbia have banned corporal punishment from use in state schools. Two states, New Jersey and Iowa, additionally ban the use of corporal punishment in private schools. The states, in chronological order of the year they banned, are:
New Jersey - 1867
Massachusetts - 1971
Hawaii - 1973
District of Columbia - 1977
Maine - 1979
New Hampshire - 1983
New York - 1985
Vermont - 1985
California - 1986
Nebraska - 1988
Wisconsin - 1988
Alaska - 1989
Connecticut - 1989
Iowa - 1989
Michigan - 1989
Minnesota - 1989
North Dakota - 1989
Oregon - 1989
Virginia - 1989
South Dakota - 1990
Montana - 1991
Utah - 1992 (banned by administrative rule R277-608)[114]
Maryland - 1993
Nevada - 1993
Washington - 1993
Illinois - 1994[115]
West Virginia - 1994
Rhode Island - 2002
Delaware - 2003
Pennsylvania - 2005
Ohio - 2009 [116] The Ohio ban was signed into law by then-Governor Ted Strickland on 17 July 2009, and enforcement of the ban began on 15 October 2009.
New Mexico - 2011


Outlawed with effect from 2008 under a law, "Prohibición del castigo físico" (Prohibition of physical punishment), which applies both to parents/guardians and to schools.[117]

See also


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