chapter  4
23 Pages

The Empirical Rationale for Eliminating Physical Punishment


The prohibition of physical punishment is based foremost on the human rights imperative to provide children with equal protection and equal respect for their dignity and personhood (see Chapter 2). In many countries, however, this principle has become buried beneath debates about whether children learn from physical punishment or are harmed by it, and whether physical punishment is equal to, or different from, physical abuse. As Anne Smith demonstrated in Chapter 3, a range of theoretical perspectives predict that physical punishment will be harmful to children’s development in a number of ways. However, in many places, developmental and learning theories alone have not proved suffi cient to reframe the issue as one of healthy child development. Instead, academic debates rage, particularly in North America, over the type and amount of data necessary to decide when a theory has been adequately tested. With each study published, controversy ensues over questions of causality, confounding variables, measurement, and sample sizes (see Pediatrics, 1996, Vol. 98[4]; Psychological Bulletin, 2002, Vol. 128[4]). As these debates continue, children’s rights principles disappear into the shadows.