Corporal Punishment

What is corporal punishment?

Corporal punishment refers to the use of physical punishment to correct behaviour. The term derives from the Latin corpus, meaning body.

As an officially administered or sanctioned method of enforcing discipline, corporal punishment is in decline. Despite persistent enthusiasm for physical chastisement in significant sections of the population, social scientists are virtually unanimous in arguing that corporal punishment has more negative than positive effects.


The infliction of physical pain as an official means of punishment is as old as human history.

In the UK's schools and prisons, until relatively recently, physical punishment was perceived as part of the educative and disciplinary process, and was often viewed as 'character building'.

Although the various methods of corporal punishment were steadily outlawed throughout the 20th Century, it was not until after the 1967 Plowden report, 'Children and their Primary Schools', that the abolition of corporal punishment in state schools was treated as a major issue, and in 1986 it was outlawed altogether.

It was not until 1998 that corporal punishment was outlawed for the few remaining independent schools that retained the practice.

The issue of corporal punishment must now be considered in light of the Human Rights Act 1998 and the European Convention of Human Rights, particularly Article Three on protection against torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

The provisions of the Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 is also important for child punishment, as Article 19 states: "Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation."


Corporal punishment remains legal when used by parents, except in Scotland, which has legislated to ban parental corporal punishment.

In 1995 the Committee on the Rights of the Child, after examining the UK's first report under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, recommended that corporal punishment in the family should be prohibited, and criticised the existence of the defence of "reasonable chastisement".

Following the 1997 case of A v. UK in the European Court of Human Rights, which found that the defence of 'reasonable chastisement' did not provide sufficient protection for the rights of the child, the Government promised a review.

Section 58 of the Children Act 2004 removed the reasonable chastisement defence for parents or adults acting in loco parentis where they are charged with wounding, causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm or cruelty to children.

However, the reasonable chastisement defence remains available for parents and adults acting in loco parentis charged with common assault.

In early 2010, the Government commissioned Sir Roger Singleton, then chief adviser on the safety of children, to produce an independent report on physical punishment. Sir Roger's report, published in March 2010, recommended that: "The Government should continue to promote positive parenting strategies and effective behaviour management techniques directed towards eliminating the use of smacking. Parents who disapprove of smacking should make this clear to others who care for their children."


States’ overall human rights records are examined by the Human Rights Council in the Universal Periodic Review (UPR). The first cycle of this four-year process ended in 2011; the second cycle will take place during 2012-2016

47 states accepted recommendations on corporal punishment: Andorra; Armenia; Azerbaijan; Bangladesh; Belize; Bolivia; Brunei Darussalam; Chad; Comoros; Dominican Republic; El Salvador; Estonia; Ghana; Honduras; Hungary; Jamaica; Japan; Jordan; Kuwait; Kyrgyzstan; Latvia; Lesotho; Mali; Mexico; Mongolia; Nicaragua; Niger; Palau; Panama; Papua New Guinea; Qatar; Rwanda; Samoa; San Marino; Sao Tome and Principe; Saudi Arabia; Senegal; Serbia; Slovakia; Slovenia; Solomon Islands; Suriname; Switzerland; Turkey; Tuvalu; Vanuatu; Yemen

22 states rejected recommendations on corporal punishment: Albania; Australia; Bahamas; Barbados; Belgium; Botswana; Brunei Darussalam; Comoros; Dominica; Eritrea; Ethiopia; Georgia; Italy; Malta; Myanmar; Saudi Arabia; Singapore; St Lucia; St Vincent and the Grenadines; Sudan; UK; United Arab Emirates

23 states which have yet to achieve full prohibition neither accepted nor rejected recommendations on corporal punishment, or have still to make their responses: Argentina; Belarus; Bhutan; Canada; Cape Verde; Djibouti; Gabon; Gambia; Grenada; Guatemala; Guyana; Kiribati; Libyan Arab Jamahiriya; Malawi; Malaysia; Maldives; Mauritania; Republic of Korea; Seychelles; Somalia; South Africa; St Kitts and Nevis; TFYR Macedonia

Source: Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children – December 2011

Percentage of global child population legally protected from all corporal punishment

Protected in all settings including the home: 4.9%
Protected in some settings: 61.2%
Not protected fully in any setting: 33.9%

Source: Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children – December 2011


"Physical punishment is prohibited in all maintained and full-time independent schools, in children’s homes, in local authority foster homes and Early Years provision."
"Parents have not been explicitly prohibited from smacking their children."

Department for Education 2011

"Corporal punishment of children breaches their fundamental rights to respect for their human dignity and physical integrity. Its legality breaches their right to equal protection under the law. Urgent action is needed in every region of the world to respect fully the rights of all children – the smallest and most fragile of people."

Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children - December 2011

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