By Tracie O. Afifi and Andrea Gonzalez
Corporal punishment (e.g., spanking) is allowed in Canada according to Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada. Some Canadians are not aware of this and are surprised to learn that such a law exists, whereas others want to hold onto this archaic act.
A growing number of Canadians, however, are aware of the law and understand the need to have Section 43 abolished. The real question is why hasn’t our country already removed permission to hit children from the Criminal Code of Canada?
Globally, efforts to end violence against children, including corporal punishment, have been underway for half a century. To date, 65 countries and states worldwide have banned corporal punishment. Unfortunately, Canada is not one of them.
Currently, Bill S-251, which would ban corporal punishment in Canada, is being debated in the Senate. Now is the time to provide evidence to Canadians to inform the debate.
Why corporal punishment should never be used
The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child defines corporal punishment (also referred to as physical punishment) as punishment that uses physical force that is intended to cause pain or discomfort even if it is very mild or light. Corporal punishment can include hitting, spanking, smacking, slapping, kicking, shaking, scratching, pinching or biting, among other physical acts.
Canadian estimates within the last 10 years suggest that between 18 per cent and 43 per cent of families use spanking to discipline children.
Evidence collected over the past two decades and published in hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, has demonstrated that corporal punishment is harmful to children and has no known benefits.
This research has consistently shown corporal punishment to be a significant risk factor for injury, poor parent-child relationships and poor outcomes in children and youth. These include aggression, antisocial behaviour, slower cognitive development, emotional disorders including anxiety and depression, physical health problems, substance use, suicidal thoughts, suicide attempts and violence in intimate relationships later in life.
Because of serious concerns about the significant negative outcomes associated with corporal punishment, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a statement in 2018 clearly recommending against any physical punishment, including spanking, hitting and slapping. A similar statement was published in 2019 by the Canadian Paediatric Society:
“At no time should parents use physical punishment — spanking, slapping, hitting — or behaviour that shames children.”
Barriers to repealing Section 43
Extensive evidence highlights the harms of spanking, and no studies have found any benefits of spanking for the child. Sixty-five other countries or states worldwide have already instituted spanking bans. The question remains: Why hasn’t Canada already repealed Section 43 of the Criminal Code?
A common argument for spanking is, “I was spanked, and I turned out OK.” While that may be true for some people, it often isn’t the case.
Many children, youth and adults experience numerous poor outcomes across their lifespan related to being spanked in childhood. Physical punishment in childhood is associated with a higher likelihood of experiencing physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, emotional neglect, physical neglect and/or exposure to intimate partner violence.
It’s clear that spanking is a parenting strategy that comes with significant and unnecessary risks.
A common misconception related to the repeal of Section 43 is that laws banning corporal punishment will mean criminalization and incarceration of parents. This is simply not true and not the purpose of a ban.
In 1979, Sweden became the first country to ban corporal punishment in all settings; the aim was to educate the public — not prosecute parents. Prosecution rates of parents remained unchanged after the ban was in place.
The overall purpose of such bans is to reduce the use of corporal punishment, increase early identification of at-risk children and youth and to support families through preventive interventions.
Evidence of changing public attitudes
Several strategies have shown promise in reducing support for corporal punishment, as well as in reducing the intention to use, and the actual act of using it. These include individual and group-based programs to develop positive parenting skills, home visitation programs and media-based interventions.
Some studies have also demonstrated that providing research summaries about harms related to corporal punishment and information about children’s rights can help parents to decide to stop spanking.
Importantly, research from several countries indicates that legislation prohibiting corporal punishment may be the most effective method of reducing public support for the use of corporal punishment. Bans alone may not be sufficient; they should be enacted in combination with public awareness and education campaigns.
It is essential that Canada complies with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child that prohibits spanking. It is our duty to protect our children from unnecessary harm and give them the best chance to live happy and healthy lives that are free from violence. This starts with the Repeal of Section 43.
Tracie O. Afifi is a Professor and Canada Research Chair in Childhood Adversity and Resilience at the University of Manitoba. Andrea Gonzalez is Associate Professor at the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neurosciences at McMaster University.
The Conversation arose out of deep-seated concerns for the fading quality of our public discourse and recognition of the vital role that academic experts could play in the public arena. Information has always been essential to democracy. It’s a societal good, like clean water. But many now find it difficult to put their trust in the media and experts who have spent years researching a topic. Instead, they listen to those who have the loudest voices. Those uninformed views are amplified by social media networks that reward those who spark outrage instead of insight or thoughtful discussion. The Conversation seeks to be part of the solution to this problem, to raise up the voices of true experts and to make their knowledge available to everyone. The Conversation publishes nightly at 9 p.m. on FlaglerLive.
I agree that children should not be beat on, kids these days need love and affection and time with parents, they don’t just want a parent to be there to beat on them they want love and approval from their parents. If a parent only beats on a child that child is going to go somewhere else for that love and affection, this is where the streets the drugs the guns and everything else that makes them feel good. BUT I also think I child needs discipline they need to know they are loved but they also need to know that the parents loves them enough to protect them from what’s out on the streets. If you just let a kid run all over you and just do what ever they want that’s not showing them love either, they need to know,( well my mom loves me but she isn’t going to let me get out here and get in trouble.) The problem is child protective services say your not allowed to put them in a corner and your not allowed to send them to their room, that doesn’t help anyway because these days kids have just about every electronic you can buy, when I had my kids there were no electronics like they are today, they would watch cartoons for a little bit on Saturday mornings and for a little bit after their homework was done during the week, but I never had a problem with my kids running the streets and getting in trouble, they stayed in our yard no one else’s they did not spend the night at anyone’s house except their aunt and uncle’s house that was it, my kids knew what punishment was and they did everything they were told to do with no complaints, today all they do is complain argue curse at their parents. Most of the reason kids are like this today is because the government stepped in and decided to tell the parents how to raise their kids and that is exactly what happened, I don’t want to see any kids get abused or beat but they’re are ways to punish a kid without beating them and abusing them. God said spare the rod spoil the child, well that’s exactly what happened to all these kids killing, doing drugs, killing parents, it’s just way to much control for a kid to have. Kids need discipline is the only way they learn that they are not old enough to make their own decisions and they have to abide by the parents rules.
JOE D says
As a former Family and Child therapist as a Clinical Nurse Specialist and Certified Nurse Case Manager, I can tell you that no Child Protective Services workers in MY 20 years of being a therapist would question a parent who sat a child in the corner ( unless it was for HOURS)….the GENERAL guideline for time outs is 1-3 minutes for each year of their age, with a discussion afterwards as to what they could have done differently. Similar to time outs in their ROOMS (again unless they are kept in their room for days on end)
Now, withholding of meals is not legal….although holding of privileges: desert and other treats wouldn’t be considered abuse. Taking away of TV, video games, computer time, play times, special toys is also appropriate restrictions.
The problem with physical discipline, is as the child gets older, you have to increase the level of violence, soon getting to the level of actual INJURY (leaving a mark of worse).
I raised 3 children ( 1 girl, 2 boys), including one later adopted son (age 9) who was considered “special needs” due to his behavioral problems. He was ROUTINELY slapped and beaten, almost on a daily basis by his biological parents…resulting in incredible ANGER!
All three children are grown, and successful now, 2 of them with children of their own.
As for the “WONDERFUL” school life in the 1960’s and 1970’s described earlier in these comments, it is a FANTASY. I was bullied almost on a DAILY basis in school….NEVER told my parents or teachers, even to this day! In high school, I had a knife pulled on me, and was also threatened daily. I am convinced, that had a GREAT DEAL to do with my becoming a Child and Family Therapist!
Physical discipline is more about the PARENTS’ anger and insecurity, than any USEFUL purpose for the child.
Dennis C Rathsam says
Spanking your kids for being bad has gone on since the Civil War. In Texas they paddle kids when they act up. No warm no foul. Many of these kids who were spanked turned out wonderfull. The men who fought for our freedom in both world wars, were spanked, my father, a Marine Vet who served in WW2 got spanked. He was part of the Greatest Generation. These men fought, & many died for our freedom. Do you want to build men, or snowflakes? Spanking worked for many generations…To many people have nothing to do with thier time, you cant reinvent the wheel, this is why we have so many kids that act up in school. Parents need to be involved, instead of letting thier kids run wild in the streets at all hours of the night!
Pierre Tristam says
Brutalizing kids has been going on since cave days and before. It doesn’t make it less barbaric, only more so, if you pretend to be civilized.
Trying to “talk” or “reason” with children has not produced the desired results, what’s your answer?
JOE D says
Time for counseling by a school social worker or a therapist recommended by your child’s primary care provider.
They can assist you and your child both to come up with alternative discipline techniques and possibly explore why the behavior is there to begin with…
I have seen it happen time and time again over my career!
Ray W. says
I wish to apologize to FlaglerLive readers. Upon reflecting, I recall being spanked one time when I was very young. My father later told me he had to stop because his heart was breaking as he heard me cry. He never spanked me again. I was, however, paddled many times by Ira J. Foster, Seabreeze Junior High’s vice-principal. Pick your poison, he would intone as he pulled open the desk drawer filled with an assortment of paddles. Classroom exuberance takes many forms, but the response was always the same. I did learn not to loosen nuts on shop classroom desks using two dimes between my fingers as an impromptu set of pliers.
Ira J. Foster was a fair man, I think the legend of Ira J. Foster was more from those that earned & deserved their trip to his office.
Coach Brooks, he was the enforcer with his own paddle (same kids Foster had to paddle were always the domestic terrorist Brooks had to eventually line up and swat I can tell you their names to this day and their pattern of choice & behavior was a day long thing for them), Coach Emery was more the lead Physical Education teacher that addressed the class. As for the rest of the faculty, at least the one’s I took for courses weren’t abusive at Seabreeze Jr High. Really never had a problem with any of them in 7-9th grades, same holds for Spruce Creek HS. I was the kid that had perfect attendance record, never late to class, sat towards the front of the room in 1st row or two to learn the material. 50 minute sessions, go to locker & get a book & materials for he next course. Wasn’t class Valedictorian material, but grades were good enough on occasion to set the curve, so I was in the top N of the required & electives for any given school year.
Ray W. says
My father and his two brothers, combat airmen in WWII, flew a combined 237 combat missions; they, too, were part of the greatest generation. They were never spanked. Had your own father avoided ever being spanked, he still could have ably served as a Marine in WWII.
I can tell you from experience that whenever my paternal grandmother softly spoke my full name, complete with middle initial, I snapped to attention. I never heard her raise her voice. Police officers either have the voice or they don’t. Those who have the voice have far better suspect control.
My father never spanked any of his nine children, at least to hrmy knowledge.
How many of the s0-called conservative snowflakes who post to FlaglerLive, vengeful in their demeanor, hateful in their politics (wanting to behead Democrats), were spanked in a vain effort by their parents to build men?
Dennis C. Rathsam, you present once again as a commenter who is talking to hear his head roar. You justify violence against children in the name of societal good. You should have started your comment by stating that parents need to be involved in their children’s lives and then stopped. All the rest is wasted words.
Good ! The way it should be. These nuts that think children should be hit, Wait you get old & children usually don’t forget.
It is well documented that bear mothers and other placental mammal mothers occasionally resort to corporal punishment. This behavior exists because it presumably favors survival. However, the behavior is rare. My own experience with corporal punishment, while I was a child was also rare. When it was imposed, I remember that I royally deserved the swat on my derriere. (I really was a rotten kid at times.) I applied that same philosophy to my own two daughters as they grew up.
I agree with greatly restricting the use of corporal punishment. The sole purpose of corporal punishment is to associate discomfort (brief pain) with a behavior that is both immediate and dangerous (running in a road for example). It must always be immediate (proximal) to the unacceptable behavior. (The memory of child is short.)
In particular, corporal punishment should NEVER involve a weapon (belt, whip, ruler, etc.). It should never result in bruising or other injuries.
Anyway, moderation in all things, even parenting.
Bob J says
Are you people for real! I was raised where if you messed up you were punished, not coddled. DCF has been a go to for the children of these times. this is why children do what they do. No respect for others, only themselves. I know there are alot of you who went to catholic school as I did. You know what punishment was. If I went home and told my parents what I did and that the sister whacked me with a yard stick. they would say did you do something wrong? Well I did and was punished for it. I didnt go out and shoot up schools, sell drugs, beat or bully other people. Dont blame the children. Poor parenting is the issue.
Well, I knew plenty of people would support spanking. I do not. There are other ways to handle a child. Spanking only occurs when the parent is exasperated and/or doesn’t know any better. The best way to handle a child is with positive reinforcement. If a child does something considered wrong, show disappointment. When a child does something considered good, show approval. Wouldn’t you prefer approval over disappointment? Hitting promotes and teaches hitting.
Another thing is to be consistent. Both parents need to be on the same page, and consistent.
I remember a story Gayle King told about her daughter when the daughter was a toddler. The daughter said something bad to her mom (I don’t remember what it was) and Gayle gave her the *look* and said “Who do you think you’re talking to?” Her daughter looked down and said “My shoe.”
Positive reinforcement is a great tool, but when a child knows there will be consequences when misbehaving or something more sinister more than not will have them have 3nd thoughts. I was spanked, grounded, sent to my room much like alot of people on this board but the spanking where in reason, not maliciously. Positive reinforcement is the same mentality as the everyone gets a trophy mentality, it does not prepare you for life, it prepares you for entitlement.
Pierre Tristam says
It’s not either or. You can discipline without positive reinforcement. It doesn’t mean one has to be violent and assault a child. There are such things as words and other consequential ways of disciplining, from a place of love and caring. Violence is by definition anathema to either. It’s bullshit parents say they hit their child out of love. They’re only veiling sadism behind cave-era parenting.
Freddy65: Oh, hell, no! I’m not of the trophy generation. No, no, no. We had to earn trophies, and learn to lose. I totally believe in c0nsequences! These consequences should have nothing to do with hitting a child! When I was a kid, if a kid messed up, the neighbor or teacher told on him/her. Now days, when an adult tells on a kid to a parent the parent tells them to F off! There were a couple of occasions where my mom got exasperated with me, torn off a small bush limb and ran after me. I could run faster. I know if a teacher ever hit me though, there would be hell to pay for her/him. Physical assault is not necessary, and *spanking* is physical assault. it’s just a lack of knowing what to do.
Once our Westboro Baptist leaning Governor and Legislature destroy secular public schools in favor of the evangelical charter madrassas, there will be plenty of rods not sparing the child. Funding these fundamentalist schools alongside no permit concealed carry laws will produce just the discipline to make them all “God’s chilluns”! Now if we could just get rid of Disne….
“… Take the one’s that were involved in the home invasion that are now serving 15 years ? I’ll bet they’d gladly take a spanking at 10-12 years of age, that escalated to drug deals, grand theft auto & home invasion by age 15. …”
What observation are you missing here Jimbo99? You’ve said it, do you realize it?
I’ll give you a hint, “one’s that were involved.” You didn’t say “the one” involved. The group dynamic is always at play… a leader “sets the tone” as to what is permissible and the group accepts.
You see this even between adults, even in politics. A new standard is set, one which the group must follow to “belong.”
Just an observation.
Well we have NO spanking in schools, no religion in schools, no discipline in schools just rude and disruptive kids in school. Sure let the kids run wild so they can be sent home to parents that can’t control their kids. Whatever the schools are doing based on all the crime we read about in schools these days, the bullies, the rudeness, its NOT WORKING.
“Spare the rod, spoil the child?” When is a child an adult mentally, cognitively? And who is to say?… Society? … The parent who was molded by that same (perhaps past) society?
Has anyone seen the video (now unfortunately remastered) entitled “A Trip Down Market Street?”
When I first saw it some years ago what I noticed most was all the very young people out and about toiling in the busy street… for example selling newspapers, etc. Then it dawned on me, they weren’t considered children… they were considered adults. They were adults in a transitioning society, one rapidly transitioning from pre-industrial to industrial… sociologically. So too, with our “modern” times… a post-industrial, informational based society. Perhaps from a sociological standpoint, we all require a re-evaluation of what it is to be “adult.” And what it is to be “a child.”
Not to mention that science now indicates that on average, most human developing brains are not as robust in cognitive reasoning as once thought… even in individuals in their very late teens.
How can we even consider corporal punishment as an answer to any problem involving children?
Just an observation.
Good points. I once saw a woman slap a baby. That mama thought she was disciplining her child. I once told off a group of religious folks, who love to walk door to door spreading their particular point of view, because they were pushing their little kids to go along with them in the hot sun, at noon, in south Florida, on a Saturday. Those parents thought they were absolutely doing the right thing.
Now, when my husband sees the same religious people coming up the road, he thinks “oh-oh!”