Questions and answers


People will often have a lot of questions about banning corporal punishment. Click on a question to see our answer...

You can also download these questions and answers in .pdf form in English, French and Spanish.

"What is corporal punishment?"

'Corporal' means 'physical' – to do with your body. Here, it means 'using physical force to hurt someone or make them uncomfortable'.

So corporal punishment means punishing someone using physical force, in a way which is meant to hurt them or make them uncomfortable. Any punishment using force is corporal punishment, however light it is.

For example, if a toddler spills her drink and her parent hits her on the hand to punish her, that is corporal punishment. Corporal punishment often takes the form of hitting ("smacking" or "spanking") children.

But it can also take other forms (for example, kicking a child, shaking them or forcing them to stay in uncomfortable positions). If a child at school doesn't know the answer to a question and so his teacher forces him to stand on one leg for a long time, that is corporal punishment too.

There are also other forms of punishment which are not physical, but which are just as cruel – for example, making children feel scared or embarrassed on purpose. This kind of punishment is very disrespectful to children and is just as wrong as physical punishment.

Corporal punishment of children can take place in various places – including at home, at school, in other places where children are cared for and in prison.

The Global Initiave to End All Corporal Punishment believes that all kinds of cruel punishment, including all corporal punishment, are wrong and should be banned.

"Does corporal punishment really hurt?"

Yes, of course it does! Adults often don't realise that corporal punishment hurts both 'on the outside' and 'on the inside'.

Corporal punishment hurts physically and emotionally, and it can be very humiliating too. ResearchDoing research means finding things out. on children's feelings and thoughts about corporal punishment is now being done all over the world. In this research, children are telling adults that it does hurt, a lot.

The biggest piece of research is the UN Secretary-General's Study on Violence against ChildrenIn this study, adults wanted to find out all about violence against children all over the world. Click to read more about it.. In 2006, Professor Paulo Sérgio Pinheiro, who led the study, wrote:

"Throughout the study process, children have consistently expressed the urgent need to stop all this violence. Children testify to the hurt – not only physical, but 'the hurt inside' – which this violence causes them, compounded by adult acceptance, even approval, of it. Governments need to accept that this is indeed an emergency, although it is not a new emergency. Children have suffered violence at the hands of adults unseen and unheard for centuries. But now that the scale and impact of violence against children is becoming visible, they cannot be kept waiting any longer for the effective protection to which they have an unqualified right."

Other pieces of research about corporal punishment tell us more about how it can damage individual people and society. For example, a big studyA study is a piece of research. Often, people who do research write about what they found out in a study report. published in 2002 showed that children who were physically punished by their parents were more likely to have various problems – including being aggressive and unfriendly, difficulty learning about right and wrong, and mental health problems.

A different piece of research found that two parents out of five who had hit their children had used a different degree of force than they meant to. This means that they might have hit their children much harder than they meant to. Obviously, this could be very dangerous – children, especially babies and small children, could get seriously hurt.

All this research is important. But even if there was no research, corporal punishment would still be wrong. Children have the right to protection from all forms of violenceViolence means hurting someone on purpose., just as all other people do. Even if hitting someone doesn't cause them serious long-term damage, it is still wrong to hit them. This is just as true for children as it is for adults.

"Most adults in my country don't want corporal punishment to be illegal. Shouldn't we listen to them?"

No. Children have the right to be protected from violenceViolence means hurting someone on purpose., even if not everybody agrees.

Governments have to make sure that children's rights are respected. Politicians should do what is right and take a stand on this issue, even if most adults don't agree.

In almost all the countries that have banned all corporal punishment, most adults did not agree at first – but once the lawA law is a rule that tells people in a country how to behave. was made, many more people changed their minds and began to think that corporal punishment was wrong. In a few years time, adults will look back and be amazed – and ashamed – that once some people thought it was OK to hit children.

Also, the results of surveys about people's opinions on corporal punishment are not always reliable, because the answers people give can change, depending on how much they know about the subject and how the questions are worded.

"Some adults say that being hit as a child didn’t do them any harm. Would they be where they are today if their parents hadn’t punished them physically?"

Nobody knows how adults who were hit or humiliated as children would have turned out if their parents had not punished them in this way.

People who hit children usually do it because they were hit themselves when they were children. There is no point in blaming people in the past for hitting children, because they were just doing what was considered normal then. But times change, and now we know that hitting children is wrong and can be very damaging. Today we realise that children have rights just like everyone else – and it is time to make sure that all their rights are respected, including the right to protection from violence.

Some people say: "I was hit as a child and I turned out OK." But there are people who have had all kinds of bad experiences while growing up who have 'turned out OK' as adults – and nobody would say that what they experienced was good. Often it is the way they have dealt with their experiences and turned their lives around that has helped them to be "OK", not the experiences themselves.

"But young people sometimes say they don't want corporal punishment to be banned. Shouldn't adults listen to them?"

Certainly, adults should listen to what children say. But as well as listening, adults should also try to understand children.

Some children and young people do say that corporal punishment is good for them. Adults should listen to these children and young people. But they should also think about why children say this.

Perhaps they don't want to think that their parents would hurt them for no reason. Or perhaps everyone around them thinks that corporal punishment is good, and so they think it is normal.

All children have a right to respect and to be safe from violence. Children everywhere need protection from violence just as much as, or maybe even more than, adults.

Through researchDoing research means finding things out., lots of children have been telling adults how much corporal punishment hurts them, physically and emotionally. Read about this research.

Many children and young people think that corporal punishment should be banned. In many countries, children are campaigning alongside adults for equal protection from violence. Read all about them!

"Parents have a right to choose how they bring up their children. Should the government interfere even when children are not being abused?"

Parents don't own their children – children are people with their own rights.

These rights must be respected everywhere, including at home. Everyone in a family has an equal right to protection from violence, however young or old they are. Just as adults in a family should not hit each other, adults should not hit children – and the lawThe law is a set of rules that tells people in a country how to behave. should say so.

The UN Convention on the Rights of the ChildThis is a very important set of rules about how countries should respect children's rights. Click to read more about it. says that families are very important. It says that parents have a responsibility to look after children and make sure that they act in their best interests.

Some people say that hitting children to punish them is good for them. But the Committee on the Rights of the Child has said that corporal punishment is never good for children. It is in children's best interests to protect them fully from all forms of violence, including corporal punishment.

"Some adults think that there is a big difference between beating a child and a ‘loving hit’. Isn’t banning corporal punishment taking things too far? "

No. Severely beating a child may hurt physically more than a ‘loving hit’, but they are both violent and they both violate the child’s human rights.

When adults call physical punishment a ‘loving hit’ or a ‘loving smack’, they are trying to explain what they see as the difference between being cruel to a child and punishing a child because they love them and want the best for them. They believe that the ‘loving hit’ is not severe enough to seriously hurt a child.

However, when people campaign for an end to violence against women, or against elderly people, they do not say that 'loving hits' should be allowed – they say that all violence against women and elderly people is wrong. So why should it be any different for children?

Talking about "loving smacks" makes it easier for people to seriously hurt children while saying that it is "for their own good". Hitting people is not loving behaviour.

Some people say that "there is a big difference between child abuse and a light hit" – meaning that if a child is not hit very hard, it is less serious. But, however "lightly" a child is hit, hitting them still violates their right to respect and to physical integrity.

LawA law is a rule that tells people in a country how to behave. makers and governments have traditionally said that "child abuse" and "corporal punishment" are different things. But most abuse is corporal punishment – many abusive adults use violence on children to punish them and gain control. To protect children and respect their rights, all violence against them should be illegal.

"Why not tell parents how to hit their children safely, instead of banning all hitting?"

There is no such thing as "safe" hitting. All hitting shows disrespect for children and invades their physical integrityOwning and having control over your own body. Everyone has a right to physical integrity and to feel that their body is safe from all forms of violence..

Lots of researchDoing research means finding things out. has shown that often, "mild" corporal punishment can lead on to much more serious violence against children. Also, adults may sometimes not be able to judge accurately how hard they hit children (See "Does corporal punishment really hurt?")

A few countries have tried to make laws defining acceptable ways of hitting children, for example by saying that only children of a certain age can be hit, or that children can only be hit in certain ways. This is a bad thing to do. People would never say that some kinds of violence against women, or against elderly people, are OK. Of course, all violence against these groups of people, and other groups, should be illegal. It is just as wrong to try to say that some kinds of violence against children are OK. Children have a right to equal protection from assault. If anything, children, who are generally smaller and not as strong as adults – have a right to more protection.

"Some people's religions say that they have to use corporal punishment. Wouldn't it be discrimination to stop them using it?"

No. People have a right to practise their religion – but they still have to respect other people's human rights.

It's true that some people do believe that their religion tells them to punish their children physically. However, this does not give them the right to use corporal punishment. People have the right to practise their religion – but only as long as they don't violate other people's rights. All children have the right to protection from violence, whatever religion they or their parents follow.

People with very extreme religious views who believe in severe corporal punishment are often disapproved of by other religious people and by society as a whole. Many important religious figures are now joining the campaign to stop all corporal punishment. At the 2006 World Conference of Religions for Peace in Kyoto, Japan, more than 800 faith leaders made "a religious commitment to combat violence against children." The leaders came from many religions including Buddhism, Christianity, Hinduism, Jainism, Judaism, Islam, Sikhism, Shintoism, Zoroastrianism and Indigenous religions.

"In some parts of the world, life is very difficult for many parents, teachers and other people who work with children. Banning corporal punishment will just make life more difficult for them. So shouldn't the government wait until things get better before we ban it?"

No. Children shouldn't have to wait for protection from violence – they need it now.

This argument clearly shows something that most people already know – often, adults hit children to relieve their own stress or anger, not to teach children how to behave. It is true that many adults all over the world have difficult lives and serious problems – but they should not take these problems out on children.

Adults who lose their temper and hit their children often feel very guilty afterwards. In the long run, banning corporal punishment and using positive disciplineNon-violent ways of caring for children and teaching them how to behave. instead makes life much less stressful for everyone – both children and adults.

"The idea of making corporal punishment illegal comes from other cultures, not from my country. Corporal punishment is a normal part of how children are brought up in my culture. Isn’t trying to make it illegal a type of discriminationDiscrimination is treating one person or group of people worse than others without a good reason.?"

Hitting children is nothing for adults to be proud of, whoever they are and wherever they come from!

Historically, the tradition of hitting children probably comes mostly from white European cultures. People from these cultures colonised other countries and brought the idea of corporal punishment with them. Today, the only societies where children are never punished physically are small, hunter-gatherer societies.

But no culture "owns" corporal punishment. All cultures should disown it, just as they have disowned other violations of human rights which were traditional to them. Cultures can change, and people can make choices about how they want their society to be. It doesn't matter where a child comes from, how old they are or what religion they have – all children have the right to protection from violence.

There are movements to end corporal punishment of children now in all continents of the world, and corporal punishment in schools and prisons have been outlawed in many countries all over the world.

"Why do you need to make corporal punishment illegal? Can't you just teach parents not to use it?"

Just telling parents that they should not hit their children will not stop them. We need to change the law as well.

The lawThe law is a set of rules that tells people in a country how to behave. needs to say clearly that hitting children is wrong. This would send out a clear message to everyone. Then, at the same time as changing the law, governments and other organisations should also teach parents about positive disciplineNon-violent ways of caring for children and teaching them how to behave.. We need to change the law and offer support to parents.

"Why is it so difficult for adults to give up hitting children?"

It is true that lots of adults, including politicians, find the idea of banning corporal punishment very difficult. If they didn't, children would already have equal protection from violence!

There are a few different reasons why adults seem to find it hard to give up hitting children:

  1. Personal experience. Most adults everywhere were hit by their own parents when they were children. Most parents have hit their children. Nobody likes to think bad things about their parents or about the way they bring up their own children. This makes it difficult for many people to admit that corporal punishment is a bad thing.
    There is no point in blaming parents who have used corporal punishment in the past – usually they were just doing what they thought was normal. But now it's time to move on! Corporal punishment should be banned so that children are protected from violence and have their rights respected.

  2. Adults often hit children because they are angry, or stressed. When they do this, eventually it can become a habit – so that if the child behaves 'badly,' the adult automatically hits them. It is difficult to change habits like this – but it is possible. Parents can choose to bring up their children without violence. Governments and other organisations, like charities and religious organisations, can help parents to learn about how to do this.

  3. Sometimes, parents don't know any other way to teach their children how to behave. But it is possible to learn other ways. Adults and children can live together and have positive, non-violent relationships.
"Won't banning corporal punishment mean that children end up spoilt and undisciplined, with no respect for anyone or anything?"

No! Children can learn how to behave without violent punishment, through understanding, respect and tolerance.

Corporal punishment does not teach children to respect adults, or help them learn how to behave well. When a child behaves 'well' because they are scared of being punished, they are not showing true respect for adults – they are only showing fear of them. But when parents show respect for their children and discipline them in positive, non-violent ways, children learn to respect their parents in return.

Corporal punishment teaches children that using violence is a good way to solve problems. But positive discipline can help children learn how to solve problems without using violence. Positive disciplineNon-violent ways of caring for children and teaching them how to behave. doesn't spoil children – it helps them learn to think about how their behaviour affects other people.

Governments should support positive parenting and help parents learn about positive discipline and education without violence. There are lots of materials which can be translated and then used to help parents in any country.

"Wouldn't banning corporal punishment mean sending lots of parents to prison and taking their children into care?"

No. We don't want to change the law in order to punish lots of parents.

Banning corporal punishment is not about punishing parents – it is about protecting children.

Children should only be taken away from their parents if they are at risk of being seriously hurt. If not, support and education should be offered to the family instead of taking the child away.

There is no evidence from these countries that after corporal punishment was made illegal, more parents were sent to prison. At the moment, it is illegal for adults to hit each other, but an adult who just loses their temper and hits another adult once lightly is very unlikely to go to prison. The same would be true for parents who hit children. But, changing the law would make it easier to punish parents and other adults who do hurt children very seriously.

"Won't banning corporal punishment lead to children being punished in more horrible ways, such as emotional abuse, humiliation or locking them up?"

Children have a right to protection from ALL kinds of cruel punishment and treatment.

As well as corporal punishment, this includes emotional abuse and humiliation (for example, making a child feel upset or embarrassed on purpose. As well as banning corporal punishment, governments should also help parents to learn about positive, non-violent ways of bringing up children.

Parents who hit their children don't feel good about it – they usually feel upset and guilty. Most of them would like to have advice about how to solve problems with their children. Teaching parents about positive parenting helps them to teach their children to understand, accept and respect rules without using any kind of violence, physical or emotional.

We should move on from hitting and humiliating children. Children should be seen as people, whose human rights are just as important as everyone else's. This makes family life better for everyone.

"Isn't it OK for parents to smack their children to stop them from hurting themselves?"

Obviously, smacking a child is not the same as protectingProtecting someone means keeping them safe. them!

Parents have to use physical actions to protect children – especially babies and young children – all the time. This is a normal part of being a parent. If a child is crawling towards a fire, or running into a dangerous road, of course their parents will physically stop them – by holding them back, picking them up, and showing them and telling them about the danger. But hitting them does not teach them that they must learn to keep themselves safe, or that their parents want to keep them safe.

Of course, banning corporal punishment would not stop parents physically protecting their children. Adults sometimes have to physically stop other adults from hurting themselves, and this is not illegal. If an adult was about to step out into dangerous traffic, of course it would be right to physically stop them. Everyone understands that physically protecting an adult from danger is not the same as being violent towards them. It is just the same for children. In all countries in the world, the law lets people physically protect each other from danger. Making physical punishment of children illegal does not change this at all.

The time has come to end all corporal punishment of children. Children have a right to respect and equal protection from all forms of violence now!