Corporal punishment must not be reintroduced into schools

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.314.7081.677 (Published 01 March 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:677
  1. Jane M Wynne, Consultant community paediatriciana
  1. a Community Child Health, Leeds LS2 9NP

    Editor–Members of the child protection interest group, a subgroup of the British Association of Community Child Health, were appalled to hear that the reintroduction of corporal punishment is to be debated in the Education Bill. Beating is a part of the vision that the secretary of state for education and employment has for education in Britain. Hitting or beating was abolished in state schools in 1987, and a generation of children has grown up without fear of the cane, ruler, tawse, ferule, slipper, or hand.

    Since 1987 the British government has been a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The section of the convention referring to the protection of children from violence (article 19) states, “Children and young people have the right to physical and personal integrity. All services should ensure that child protection is based on this right and that definitions of abuse do not condone any level of violence to children.” What is proposed in the Education Bill is not the “gentle or loving smack or tap” approved by Archbishop Carey1 but beating: an adult would deliberately, with an implement, inflict pain on a less powerful and usually smaller person.

    Interestingly, most private schools no longer use physical punishment. Is this because it has been found ineffective? The only excuse for hitting is that is helps children to become better disciplined. In 1989, however, the government commissioned the Elton inquiry into discipline in schools, which reviewed recent studies; it found that punitive regimes, particularly those that used corporal punishment, tended to be associated with worse rather than better standards of behaviour.2 The statement that “no one likes hitting” is unfortunately untrue: the sexual connotations for the beater and beaten are well recognised.

    As doctors we should work towards a less violent society. Physical abuse of children often begins as physical chastisement that the carer admits went “too far.” The organisation EPOCH (End Physical Punishment of Children) shows that children do not have to be hit to be disciplined, and the Gulbenkian Foundation's Children and Violence is a comprehensive source book of what is known and suggests ways forward, including the outlawing of physical punishment.3 The Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health opposes all physical punishment but would prefer education for parents to legislation. The National Commission into the Prevention of Child Abuse has called for the repeal of the law, over 50 years old, that allows parents to use “reasonable chastisement.”4

    We urge the government to take note of the views of those committed to the better care of children and teenagers.

    On behalf of 62 members of the child protection interest group


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