Physical ‘discipline’, child abuse, and children’s rights

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It is approaching 40 years since Sweden, in 1979, became the first country in the world to introduce legislation that prohibited the corporal punishment of children in all settings, and it is now 10 years since New Zealand controversially became the first English-speaking country to do so. To date, 53 countries have legally banned corporal punishment in all settings, including the home. This chapter presents an overview of world progress towards recognition of every child’s right to physical integrity and to protection from humiliating and degrading treatment, and it reflects upon reasons for the continuing tolerance of corporal punishment of children in family, school, and other institutional settings around the world. Some recent research on corporal punishment will be reviewed. Existing research and the need for further research that consults children and young people about this issue is highlighted. Attention is drawn to international law and the human rights context within which children’s physical discipline continues to be tolerated in many countries, including Australia. Further, it is noted that knowledge stemming from current research on this issue positions the corporal punishment of children not only as an infringement of their human rights but also as a disquieting public health concern. Obstacles and pathways to legislative reform are considered, including the influence of language and tradition, perceptions of the child, children’s status vis-à-vis adults, and questionable distinctions between corporal punishment of children and child abuse. Recent research on parenting programmes designed to challenge parents’ use of corporal punishment as discipline is also discussed. Children, it is argued, are entitled to live in environments that nurture and promote their optimal development, whenever this is possible. Corporal punishment has no place in any child’s childhood.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationChild Abuse and Neglect
Subtitle of host publicationForensic Issues in Evidence, Impact and Management
EditorsIndia Bryce, Yolande Robinson, Wayne Petherick
Place of PublicationLondon, UK
Number of pages16
ISBN (Electronic)9780128153444
ISBN (Print)9780128153451
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2019


  • Child abuse
  • Childhood
  • Childism
  • Children’s rights
  • Parenting
  • Physical discipline
  • Physical punishment
  • Smacking
  • Spanking
  • Violence

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