Boffins hit us with facts: spare the rod really is the best policy
A total ban on smacking children makes societies less violent, a new study suggests
It’s been 21 years since judicial corporal punishment was banned in SA, while from 2017 parents have been prohibited from smacking their children. But many are still divided over whether it has led to poorer behaviour among kids.
However, a new study suggests that prohibiting corporal punishment really does bring benefits for society.
Researchers at Mcgill University in Montreal, Canada, studied 88 countries around the world to see if there was a link between youth violence and the use of physical force.
They discovered countries with a total ban on smacking at home and in school experienced fighting rates in under-18s that were as much as 69% lower than countries without legislation.
However the new research showed that for countries with partial bans, such as Britain, where corporal punishment is only outlawed in schools (the smacking ban became law in Britain in 2005), physical violence was lower among women (by 56%) but had no affect on male aggression.
The UK’s National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) said the new research should prompt Britain to change the law, which currently allows for “reasonable chastisement” and parents will only face prosecution if the smack leaves a mark.
In September, Scotland outlawed corporal punishment entirely, and Wales is consulting on legislation to remove the defence of reasonable punishment.
Alana Ryan, NSPCC senior public affairs and policy officer, said: “This substantial piece of research highlights that countries which outlaw corporal punishment typically have lower levels of youth violence, suggesting that bans not only keep children safe from adults, but also from their peers.
“Physical discipline should have no place in society and the defence of ‘reasonable punishment’ should be removed from law.”
In many parts of the world smacking is still considered an acceptable way of disciplining a child. But a growing body of evidence suggests that it may be detrimental to a child’s health and wellbeing, and perpetuate a cycle of violence through successive generations.
To find out whether national bans could affect rates of youth violence the researchers used information from surveys of teen behaviour from 88 countries which asked whether youngsters had been involved in fights in the past 12 months.
Thirty countries had implemented a full ban on corporal punishment at school and at home, 38 had a partial ban (schools only) and 20 had no bans in place.
The results showed that frequent physical fighting was more than three times as common among young men as it was among young women.
In countries where full bans were in force the prevalence of physical fighting was 69% lower among young men and 42% lower among young women than it was in countries without any ban.
The link remained even after taking account of other potentially influential factors, such as national wealth, the murder rate, and social programmes aiming to curb teens’ exposure to violence at home and at school.
The researchers say it is not clear whether the bans actively prevent aggressive behaviour or whether they reflect a culture that inhibits youth violence.
But they say the study adds to the growing body of evidence showing the damaging impact of corporal punishment on teen health and safety.
Lead author Dr Frank Eglar, of the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill, said: “A growing number of countries have banned corporal punishment as an acceptable means of child discipline and this is an important step that should be encouraged.
“These results support the hypothesis that societies that prohibit the use of corporal punishment are less violent for youth to grow up in than societies that have not.
“Based on all we know from previous research, of course corporal punishment should be banned, primarily to help protect children from unnecessary harm and to align national laws with the rights of the child.”
The research was published in the journal BMJ Open.
– © Telegraph Media Group Limited (2018)