Corporal Punishment: Is Hitting Children the Correct Way of Discipline?

a girl feel scared to her father

Have you ever been slapped by a teacher in school or told to hold your ear and stand outside the classroom or face the wall and stand? If not this then give a sarcastic comment for not behaving in a certain way by parents or teacher. Have your parents slapped or pinched you for not concentrating on your studies or told your teacher to beat you if you don’t study? How do you feel in light of these events? What emotions did you experience? This are a form of punishment known as “Corporal Punishment”. It is highly prevalent both at home and at school.

In 2021, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that 60% of children experience corporal punishment either from caregivers or school staff between the age of 2-14 years. Data from 2005-2013 was analyzed by the United Nations for International Children’s Emergency Funds (UNICEF) which synthesized that 6 out of 10 children aged 2-14 had recently been subjected to physical punishment at home by adults. A study conducted by the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2007 reported that 69% of children have been physically abused. The prevalence of corporal punishment in India is clear not only through research papers but also through social media and media reporting both print and electronic. Children are subjected to corporal punishment mostly in places that are considered safe for them such as schools, homes, hostels, ashrams, juvenile and orphanages.

What is Corporal Punishment?

The UN committee defines corporal punishment as any form of punishment that is intended to cause pain or discomfort even to some degree on the child. It includes any type of hitting either with hands such as slapping, smacking, pulling hairs, or pinching, or with an object such as a belt, stick, wooden ruler. Non-physical forms of punishment include humiliating, threatening, and giving sarcastic comments. Both physical and non-physical forms of punishment are corporal punishment. Research has found that there is almost a similar risk of boys or girls experiencing corporal punishment. Therefore, a disruptive form of discipline that has no effect on the educational performance of a child is known as corporal punishment.

Has India normalized Corporal Punishment?

Whether at home or at school, it is the norm. Parents and society take it as their responsibility to discipline children and the natural human instinct which is well-accepted by society is to hit. It is still considered an appropriate method to mold a child’s behavior to fit your expectations. Additionally, it simply requires less time and allows you to achieve one’s goal of disciplining a child in less than a minute. People wish to hold onto traditions, custom, and age-old norm that has no supporting scientific or research-based data.

Why do parents and teachers use corporal punishment?

Parents who were physically punished in their childhood are more prone to do the same with their children. They have become accustomed to this method of discipline throughout their lives. Being unaware of any other method they resort to corporal punishment. In the case of teacher’s their training does not equip them with various methods of disciplining nor does it include reflective thinking as a part of the teacher training program.

Therefore, why a child misbehaves or how can a teacher use positive techniques to discipline never crossed their mind. Frustration and lack of skills to handle make the teacher use a readily available yet less time-consuming corporal punishment. It has become normal to an extent that parents dropping children to school and tuition themselves tell teachers to beat their child if they don’t listen. As parents think that it will make their children concentrate and learn better in the classroom thus improving their performance.

Indian law related to child protection

Corporal punishment from a human rights perspective is an evil act that is degrading and unjust.

  • According to Article 21, every citizen has a right to live with dignity and child violence is a violation of this right given under the constitution.
  • Corporal punishment often results in child’s absenteeism from school or drop-out which is against the Right to Education guaranteed under Article 21 as the fundamental right. According to the Right to Education, the state must provide free and compulsory education for all children of 6-14 years.
  • Article 39 of the constitution directs states to work towards the protection of children from abuse. Juvenile Justice (Care and Protection of Children) Act, 2000 prohibited child cruelty under section 23.

These laws mandate the state to work towards protection of children and hold teachers and adults accountable for using corporal punishment.

Along with Indian legislation, India abides by international standards with a child protection focus.

  • The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, under Article 37 (a) specifics that no child shall be subjected to torture, inhuman punishment, or cruelty. Corporal punishment is the violation of a child’s rights which include human dignity, health development, physical integrity, education, and freedom from cruel, degraded, or inhuman treatment.
  • The United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) with a target to achieve by 2030, also highlight the elimination of violence against children. SDG 16 does not explicitly write under targets, but it asserts the goal of “ending abuse, exploitation, trafficking, and all forms of torture and violence against children.” Thus, corporal punishment comes under SDGs.
Effect of corporal punishment

Studies have clearly shown that using physical punishment on children has no positive effects. On the contrary, it makes behavioral issues more prevalent in children and has adverse effects on children across cultures. Therefore, there are various negative effects on students which are:

  • Impaired cognitive and socio-emotional development of a child, decrease in educational outcomes and much more.
  • Corporal punishment, not only makes children experience the feeling of sadness, dear, shame, guilt and pain but also the feeling of being threatened.
  • There is an increase in physiological stress as the child feels threatened and it activates the neural pathway that deals with danger. Children who suffer from corporal punishment tend to exhibit a high hormonal reactivity system to stress and it might impact their brain structure and function. Direct physical harm can result in hopelessness, low self-esteem, behavior, anxiety disorder, depression, long-term disability, or in extreme cases suicide or death.

Observing a pattern of corporal punishment by parents, teachers, and all possible adults, teaches children that the best way to resolve a problem is to hit, and if I have the power and authority I can hit anyone. Studies have demonstrated a strong association between corporal punishment and child aggression as children exhibit aggression toward peers, siblings, and parents. Along with aggression, they might show anti-social behavior that are actions that violate rights or commit crimes to harm others.

What can be done?

Even after laws in India and on the International level Corporal Punishment is still widely used in India. The question is now what can we do as the responsibility is not solely of the government and state? It’s a collaborative responsibility of all stakeholders to work towards child protection. The efforts are not only to make law strict or to train teachers, but the caregiver role is equally important. Also, a shift in perspective needs to be initiated. The following can be the ways:

  • Government or school counselors should conduct school-based programs to ensure that teachers and parents collaboratively share ideas about discipline and punishment.
  • Informative and skill-building sessions to develop and nurture non-violent parenting and teaching.
  • School-based program to build a positive school environment that is violence-free.
  • Activities that strengthen relationships between teachers and students as well as parents and children. The school’s collaboration with parents is crucial.
  • Improvement in support services for children who have been a victim of corporal Punishment.
  • Adopt a policy of zero tolerance towards any sort of violence against children.
Towards Positive Disciplining Approach

Research-based evidence demonstrates that disciplining children is not effectively achieved through punishment. Many people find it difficult to differentiate between punishment and discipline. The purpose of corporal punishment is to stop a child from behaving in a particular way. While positive disciplining is a technique to make a child understand and accept a behavior without any fear or threat. Respect for the child is the foundation of positive discipline, which is responsive discipline. It empowers and enriches children to self-discipline. It’s a response to a misbehave and not a reaction. The behavior receives an immediate answer in the form of a reaction, whereas a well-thought-out and reflected act constitutes the response. The goal is to teach and not punish children, making them feel a deeper sense of belongingness.

Three factors should be taken into consideration while developing disciplinary techniques.
  • Child rights should be the foundation of any disciplinary action, and it should never violate them at any point in time.
  • Understanding the needs and the developmental level of a child for instance a 4-year-old child running around the class and a 14-year-old doing the same thing should have two different responses.
  • Each disciplinary method should be served by Evidence-based practices. Parents should practice continuous and consistent discipline, not only when a mistake is made by the child It is totally against any kind of physical and verbal violence. Positive disciplining focuses on identifying and understanding the beliefs behind a behavior.

Thus, it is a long-term solution to develop self-discipline based on getting to know the child’s needs and building mutual relationships of respect.

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