What law reform means - achieving prohibition in all settings

Law reform to prohibit corporal punishment means ensuring that children are legally protected from assault just as adults are - even when the assault is inflicted in the guise of "discipline" or "correction". Corporal punishment must be prohibited in all settings of children's lives, including the family home, alternative care settings, day care, schools, penal institutions and as a sentence for crime under state, customary and religious law. Prohibition is achieved when:

  • all defences and authorisations of corporal punishment are repealed, and
  • legislation explicitly prohibits all corporal punishment and other cruel and degrading punishment.

As the Committee on the Rights of the Child explains in its General Comment No. 8:

"In the light of the traditional acceptance of violent and humiliating forms of punishment of children, a growing number of States have recognized that simply repealing authorization of corporal punishment and any existing defences is not enough. In addition, explicit prohibition of corporal punishment and other cruel or degrading forms of punishment, in their civil or criminal legislation, is required in order to make it absolutely clear that it is as unlawful to hit or 'smack' or 'spank' a child as to do so to an adult, and that the criminal law on assault does apply equally to such violence, regardless of whether it is termed 'discipline' or 'reasonable correction'.

"Once the criminal law applies fully to assaults on children, the child is protected from corporal punishment wherever he or she is and whoever the perpetrator is...."

The key definition of corporal punishment is that provided in the Committee's General Comment:

"The Committee defines 'corporal' or 'physical' punishment as any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.  Most involves hitting ('smacking', 'slapping', 'spanking') children, with the hand or with an implement - a whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc.  But it can also involve, for example, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion (for example, washing children’s mouths out with soap or forcing them to swallow hot spices).  In the view of the Committee, corporal punishment is invariably degrading.  In addition, there are other non-physical forms of punishment that are also cruel and degrading and thus incompatible with the Convention.  These include, for example, punishment which belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats, threatens, scares or ridicules the child."

Whether or not it is felt necessary to include a definition of corporal punishment in law, it is crucial that prohibiting legislation sends a clear message that all forms of corporal punishment, without exception, are unlawful and that no loopholes are left for so-called "light" punishment.


Key resources

The starting point for achieving prohibition is understanding the current law. Click here for a detailed report of the law and corporal punishment in YOUR country. Other key resources include:

See also Technical publications on law reform.

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