Prohibiting corporal punishment: a human rights imperative

Corporal punishment of children breaches their fundamental human rights to respect for human dignity and physical integrity. Its legality in the majority of states worldwide - in contrast to other forms of interpersonal violence - challenges the universal right to equal protection under the law.

Historically, special defences existed in the laws of many countries to justify corporal punishment of wives, servants, slaves and apprentices. Today, violence against women in most states is no longer defended in law, though it remains common. But the same cannot be said for children, as legislation in many countries confirms the "right" of parents and others to impose on them "reasonable chastisement" (or "moderate correction", force for the purpose of correction", etc). It is paradoxical and an affront to humanity that children, the smallest and most vulnerable of people, should have less protection from assault than adults. Explicitly repealing these defences for violent punishment of children is criticial in prohibiting and eliminating all corporal punishment. For more information on what it means to reform the law to achieve complete prohibition of corporal punishment, see the law reform pages.

Since the very beginning of its work in monitoring implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), the Committee on the Rights of the Child has consistently stated that persisting legal and social acceptance of corporal punishment is incompatible with the Convention and has recommended law reform to prohibit it in all settings. Other UN treaty bodies have also recommended prohibition of corporal punishment of children, increasingly in all settings including the home. Regional treaty bodies are also holding states to account for their obligation to ensure children are protected in both law and practice from all corporal punishment. For more information on the human rights consensus condemning corporal punishment, details of treaty body recommendations made to states and other jurisprudence on the issue, including national high-level court rulings,  see the human rights pages.

The context for all the work of the Global Initiative is implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child. For details, see the page on the Global Initiative's work.

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Progress towards ending corporal punishment

Despite the growing consensus that corporal punishment breaches children's fundamental human rights, most of the world's children are still subjected to legalised assaults by their parents and by other carers and teachers. The research pages reveal the growing bank of evidence documenting this widespread violence against children. But this is being challenged ever more vociferously and progress towards prohibiting all corporal punishment is gaining pace across the world.

As at May 2017, 53 states have reformed their laws to clearly prohibit all corporal punishment of children in all settings, including the home. Governments in 56 others have expressed a commitment to achieving this law reform. Outside the home setting, prohibition has been achieved in alternative care and day care in 60 states, in all schools in 131 states, in penal institutions in 139 states and as a sentence for crime in 165 states. For facts and figures on all aspects of progress towards prohibition and details individual reports on every state and territory worldwide, see the global progress pages.

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The place of research in challenging corporal punishment

The imperative for removing adults' assumed right to hit children is that of fundamental human rights. Research into the harmful physical and psychological effects of corporal punishment and into the relative significance of links with other forms of violence, in childhood and later life, add further compelling arguments for condemning and ending the practice, suggesting that it is an essential strategy for reducing all forms of violence, in childhood and later life. And children, for too long the silent victims of corporal punishment, are beginning to express their own views about it. The Convention on the Rights of the Child requires states to enable children to express their views freely on all matters affecting them, and to give their views due consideration. Hearing children's voices should help to speed the end of corporal punishment.

There is some danger that in becoming too preoccupied with this absorbing research, people forget the human rights imperative for action now. We do not look into the effects of physical punishment on women: it is enough that it breaches fundamental rights.

For further information on corporal punishment research, including summaries of research into the prevalence of and attitudes towards corproal punishment of children in countries in all regions and information on what research has revealed about the effects of corporal punishment on children and societies, see the research pages.

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This is an automatic translation service. Extracts from laws, treaty body recommendations and Universal Periodic Review outcomes are unofficial translations.