Corporal punishment is the “lowest”-intensity form of child abuse that builds the foundation for large-scale and severe violence that afflicts our society. We will never be able to bring down murder and homicide rates to “normal” levels without eliminating “everyday” and “petty” violence. If we want to achieve that, we need to ban corporal punishment from our schools which is the basic module of the violence pyramid. Corporal punishment does not only have detrimental consequences for our children’s wellbeing, but has great potential for turning them into the next generation of violent perpetrators.
Corporal punishment puts our children’s wellbeing at risk
The evidence is so compelling that no one can seriously doubt the negative impacts of corporal punishment on our children and our society. Child development studies have proven that toxic stress resulting from the abuse or neglect of very young children can alter the structure and functioning of their brain as it develops, with long-term effects on their cognitive and language abilities, the child’s socio-emotional development, and mental health. There have also been plenty of cases where school corporal punishment resulted in severe physical injuries, such as loss of vision, head trauma, fractures, and motor or cognitive impairment. Medical research has also found that physical and emotional abuse correlates with increased risk for illness and chronic disease, such as heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and cancer. We also see corporal punishment contributing to the occurrence of psychological disorders and mental health problems, especially depression and anxiety, suicide, learning and attention deficits and memory difficulties, as well as resulting in behavioural problems such as delinquency and criminal behaviour, substance abuse, and the inability to maintain healthy intimate or parenting relationships in adulthood.
A vast body of academic research and studies, conducted by medical researchers, child development experts, public health professionals and social scientists across several countries during the past decades, has delivered a body of overwhelming evidence with unambiguous results. It has been proven that any form of corporal punishment, including scolding and “mild” forms of physical force, is harmful to our children. There can be no serious doubt that corporal punishment by teachers undermines the wellbeing and education of children, and their ability to become functional and successful adults in later life. Corporal punishment causes toxic stress in children which can lead to alteration of their brain structure during early childhood, which negatively affects their cognitive and language abilities, socio-emotional development, and mental health. It can cause severe physical injuries with long-term effects on children, such as head trauma, visual, motor and cognitive impairments. Abuse during childhood also correlates with adverse health effects and chronic diseases in later adult life, e.g. heart disease, cancer, chronic lung disease, obesity or high blood pressure. Similarly, corporal punishment lowers the self-esteem of children and makes them more likely to experience psychological disorders as young adults, such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, and suicide attempts. They are also at increased risk to endeavour other mental problems including post-traumatic stress disorder, learning and attention deficits, and memory difficulties. Corporal punishment not only correlates with behavioral problems and delinquency during childhood and adolescence, but also negatively influences children’s future life as adults. The experience of corporal punishment increases their likelihood to face problems such as alcoholism and drug abuse, display criminal behaviour and commit violent crimes as adults. Physical and emotional abuse by school teachers does not teach children how to manage conflicts and frustration peacefully, which often makes them unable to maintain healthy intimate or parenting relationships in adulthood.
Corporal punishment undermines education
The use of corporal punishment is often justified that it would benefit classroom discipline and encourage students to do their homework and study hard. This is nothing but a myth, perpetuated over centuries. Various studies have shown that children who experience corporal punishment have lower academic scores and are more likely to drop out from school. School corporal punishment therefore not only puts our children’s wellbeing at risk and violates their human rights, but also gets in the way of their academic success. Parents and teachers who want their children to get the best possible marks should refrain from the use of corporal punishment.
Corporal punishment does not only violate children’s human rights and puts their physical and mental wellbeing at risk. It also substantially undermines their education by lowering the quality of teaching, their motivations and aspirations, and the quality of educational outcomes. Corporal punishment discourages children’s intellectual curiosity, their creativity and explorative attitude to try out new things. Instead it leads to conformist behaviour, with the objective to avoid pain and stay under the teacher’s radar, which is the opposite of active involvement and participation in the classroom. Reflexive aggression, which is a frequent immediate response of children to corporal punishment, lowers the children’s capacity to absorb teaching content and makes it more difficult for the teacher to manage the classroom. The fear and stress caused by corporal punishment is one of the main reasons why children do not like going to school or suffer from school-phobia, in many cases leading to school dropout and low retention rates of secondary schools. Children who experience or witness corporal punishment also have significantly lower academic scores. Corporal punishment is therefore ineffective as both a teaching and disciplining method and only leads to a spiral of violence which will eventually escalate. The time that teachers waste on scolding and beating children could in fact be spent on teaching children something useful, which might be worth considering in light of the poor performance of India’s educational sector. By hampering the education of individual children on a large scale, corporal punishment also undermines India’s educational sector and its aspiration to deliver the educational outcomes that are required by an ambitious and developing 21st century economy. The extent of India’s current learning crisis has been described by the World Bank recently: 80% of grade 2 students cannot read a single word of a short text. In rural areas, half of grade 5 students are not able to solve “46 minus 17” nor fluently read “There were black clouds in the sky” in local language. In urban areas, the picture is not much different, e.g. in Delhi, the ability of students lacks behind by three or four grades, with a widening gap for the lowest-performing children over time. While this sad state of affairs is not caused by corporal punishment alone, it makes clear that India’s schools need to change their approaches and methodologies. Eliminating the practice of corporal punishment must be part of that change process.
Corporal punishment comes with a great cost for societyCorporal punishment is not only detrimental to the well-being and education of our children, but also generates a great cost for our society. Children who have been injured or traumatised by corporal punishment, require medical treatment services. Severe or long-term damages the child’s health, such as loss of vision or depression, to will translate into costs for child welfare services, adult medical care and special education. While the monetary expense has to be borne by individual families, absent public health care provision in India, there is still a cost for society. The financial resources spent on treatment and welfare cannot be spent on consuming goods and services, therefore creating a loss for society. In addition, the negative behavioural effects related to corporal punishment can increase criminal justice cost, by requiring more resources for arresting juvenile delinquents, court proceedings and detention facilities.