Corporal punishment and domestic violence: the case for "anti-spanking" legislation.

AuthorWells, Lana

Recall conversations among parents deliberating the joys and perils of raising children--does the following sound familiar?

"I wouldn't normally spank my kid, but if he crosses the road without looking, you bet I'm gonna make my point! That'll be the last time he does that."

While spanking is reportedly becoming an a gauche social practice in Canada, the Canadian Incidence Study of Reported Child Abuse and Neglect documented 18,688 substantiated cases of physical abuse occurring in Canada in 2008, of which just over half (54%) involved a child being hit with a hand, including slapping and spanking.

Corporal punishment is defined as "the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience pain, but not injury, for purposes of correction or control of the child's behaviour" (Straus, 2001). Though a number of organizations and the research community have strongly opposed the use of corporal punishment, in Canada, parents, and other caregivers including schoolteachers, can use "reasonable" force to correct children's behaviour under Section 43 of the Criminal Code.

Clearly, spanking remains a common, yet divisive, practice in Canadian households.

Determining the prevalence of corporal punishment is challenging as estimates are usually based on parents self-reporting, which is subject to deliberate omissions and errors of recall. However, Canadian surveys over the last decade have shown rates as high as 50% (Durant & Enson, 2004).

A 2012 CBC poll of 6,417 readers echoes these findings. The poll asked readers what they thought about Canada's current legal provisions allowing spanking; about a third thought that the law was reasonable (36%) and some (9%) thought it was too constraining. About half (53%) were opposed to hitting a child. Clearly, spanking remains a common, yet divisive, practice in Canadian households.

Impacts on Kids: The Cycle of Domestic Violence

Despite the commonly held belief that corporal punishment used by loving parents is a good, or at least harmless, disciplining technique, an overwhelming body of research now shows that even mild and moderate corporal punishment has harmful side effects. Some studies have found that a majority of child abuse cases arise in situations where the abuser intended to discipline the child, and two-thirds of abusive parents admit that their abuse began as an attempt to discipline their child (Gershoff & Bitensky, 2007).

Documented negative effects of corporal punishment...

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