Questions and answers about prohibition
1. What is corporal punishment?
Corporal punishment is any punishment in which physical force is used with the intention to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light (see General Comment No. 8 of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child).
2. What are some examples of corporal punishment?
Corporal punishment often involves hitting, slapping or spanking children with the hand or an object such as a belt, stick (“swizzle-stick”), shoe or wooden spoon. It can also involve kicking, shaking, scratching, pinching, burning or scalding children; pulling their hair, boxing their ears, forcing them to stay in uncomfortable positions or washing out their mouths with soap; and non-physical punishments which are cruel, humiliating or degrading.
3. Doesn’t the law allow adults to physically punish children in their care?
Yes, in nearly all Caribbean states and territories corporal punishment is lawful in the family home. In many, it is also lawful in schools, care settings and/or the penal system. But the legality of corporal punishment breaches children’s rights (see next question). CCACPC works for prohibition of all corporal punishment – in the family home and all other settings of children’s lives.
Detailed reports on progress towards prohibition in each state and territory are available from the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children.
4. Why should corporal punishment be prohibited?
Everyone has a right to respect for their human dignity and physical integrity and to protection from all violence under the law: it should no more be lawful to hit a child than to hit an adult. All corporal punishment, however “light”, violates children’s rights.
The state has the responsibility to fully protect the human rights of all – adults and children. By allowing corporal punishment of children, the law makes the state complicit in the violation of children’s rights by parents, teachers and caregivers.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child applies in all Caribbean states and territories except Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. When states ratified the Convention, they undertook to protect the rights of all children within their jurisdiction. The Committee on the Rights of the Child, which monitors implementation of the Convention, has made it abundantly clear that children must be protected in law from all corporal punishment.
Read more about international human rights law and corporal punishment.
5. How should laws be changed?
Corporal punishment is lawful where the law directly authorises it or provides a justification or defence for its use (such as a “right” to administer “reasonable” punishment or to use “justifiable force”), or where the law is silent on the issue. To give children equal protection under the law on assault, authorisations, justifications and defences must be explicitly repealed. As the major purpose of law reform is educational – to change attitudes and move adults away from violent punishment – it is also important to have a clear statement in the law explicitly prohibiting all corporal punishment of children in the home, schools, all institutions and the penal system.
Read reports on progress towards prohibition in each state and territory, from the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children.
6. What effect does corporal punishment have on children?
There is overwhelming evidence that corporal punishment is harmful to children, adults and societies: more than 200 studies show associations between corporal punishment and a wide range of negative outcomes. Corporal punishment causes direct physical harm to children and impacts negatively in the short- and long-term on their mental and physical health, education and cognitive development. Far from teaching children how to behave, it increases antisocial behaviour and damages family relationships. It increases aggression in children, is linked to intimate partner violence and inequitable gender attitudes and increases the likelihood of perpetrating and experiencing violence as an adult.
Read more about the impact of corporal punishment.
7. How can adults teach children how to behave without using corporal punishment?
There are positive, non-violent approaches to discipline which are far more effective in teaching children how to behave than corporal punishment. Alternatives to corporal punishment include talking to children, affirming good behaviour and modelling respectful non-violent behaviour. Many resources are available for parents and teachers to learn about these and other methods.
8. Since corporal punishment is part of my culture, isn’t prohibition of corporal punishment disrespectful of my culture?
Although it is sometimes claimed that corporal punishment is a part of Caribbean tradition or culture, in fact, corporal punishment is widespread and legally accepted in states in all world regions. In the Caribbean, the legal acceptance of corporal punishment is closely tied to the history of colonialism. Corporal punishment of children was promoted and institutionalised across the Caribbean by European powers in the context of military occupation, slavery and the early development of schools and penal systems.
All children, wherever they live, have the right to legal protection from violent punishment. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child makes it clear that while culture is an important consideration in childrearing practices, it cannot be allowed to trump the human rights of the child. Indeed, article 24(3) of the Convention places an obligation on states to “take all effective and appropriate measures with a view to abolishing traditional practices prejudicial to the health of children”.
9. My religion teaches that I should physically punish my child (“spare the rod and spoil the child”). Doesn’t prohibition interfere with my right to practise my religion?
The state has a duty to respect everyone’s right to practise their religion – but it also has a duty to protect children from corporal punishment. Religious freedom cannot override respect for children’s human dignity and physical integrity.
In any case, violence against children is incompatible with the core values, shared by most religions, of respect for human dignity, compassion, justice, equality and non-violence. Globally, a growing movement of religious leaders supports an end to all corporal punishment of children. In 2012, Christian leaders from across the Caribbean released a statement supporting prohibition. Acknowledging that it has been said that some scriptural texts sanction corporal punishment, the statement says that it is not appropriate to take such texts out of their ancient cultural context to justify violence towards children:
“We believe that the adoption of legislation to prohibit corporal punishment of children in all settings is a crucial step towards a compassionate, non-violent society.... Through working with others and honouring children’s human right to equal protection under the law, we can put our faith into action and make significant progress towards a less violent society.”
Read the full statement.
10. Doesn’t prohibiting corporal punishment mean that many parents will be prosecuted, leaving their children without family care?
Prohibition is first and foremost educational: it sends a clear message that violent punishment of children is unacceptable. The aim is to “stop parents from using violent or other cruel or degrading punishments through supportive and educational, not punitive, interventions”. Implementation of prohibiting laws needs to include widespread dissemination of information about prohibition to parents, children and others.
Once prohibition is enacted, in theory all corporal punishment could be prosecuted as assault. But in practice it would be unlikely for minor assaults of children by their parents to lead to prosecution – just as is true for minor assaults of adults. Implementation of the law should be focused on the best interests of the child and in most cases prosecuting parents is unlikely to be in a child’s best interests. Prosecution should only be resorted to when regarded “as necessary to protect the child from significant harm and as being in the best interests of the affected child”.
Implementation of the law in settings outside the home should include education and training about prohibition and about positive, non-violent discipline for teachers, caregivers and other adults working with children. When corporal punishment continues to be inflicted on children in schools, care settings or the penal system, prosecution may be an appropriate response.
Read more about implementing prohibition.