Children are still beaten in both private and state schools in America, writes Sebastian Doggart at the Telegraph. “I had assumed that a country built on a belief in liberty and disgust for “cruel and unusual punishment” would not permit parents or teachers to raise their hands to their kids.”
An estimated 50 per cent of all Americans – some 150 million people – have been beaten as a child.
Britain has now banned corporal punishment in schools. But in the US, it’s still hugely popular.
“America has banned beatings of sailors, women, and animals. How can it endorse hitting children?”
The US is one of only two countries, along with Somalia, which have not ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which protects children from “all forms of physical or mental violence”.
Countries can be categorized in a four-tier league system. The fourth division, the most violent, is where children can be smacked by three groups of punishers: parents, teachers, and government officials.
Right at the bottom are Saudi Arabia and Iran, whose regimes impose amputation and mutilation. The Iranian penal code would impose adult sentences on 16 year old boys, and girls when only 10 years old.
The third division, where it is acceptable for children to be hit by a teacher or a parent, are a brace of European countries – the Czech Republic and France – as well as Australia and Iraq. This is also where the US sits.
American supporters of corporal punishment often cite the Old Testament book of Proverbs, chapter 13:
“Those who spare the rod hate their children, but those who love them are diligent to discipline them.”
According to Deborah Sendek, director of the Center for Effective Discipline, a non-profit organization based in Ohio, this Biblical interpretation underpinned American law on the mistreatment of children for nearly a century after the country was founded.
Corporal punishment retains a huge wellspring of national support. A study done in 2005 by SurveyUSA showed that 72 per cent of American parents believe “it is OK to spank a child”.
“We estimate that one in two American children are getting spanked or slapped, with a higher concentration of beatings in less educated, lower socio-economic families,” Sendek says.
As far as schools are concerned, individual states decide on whether teachers may hit students. Today, 19 out of 50 states give their blessing to corporal punishment in publicly-funded schools.
In 2006, the Office of Civil Rights documented 223,000 beatings in American public schools. That figure would be far higher if statistics were available for beatings in private schools, which 48 states allow.
Only two US states, New Jersey and Iowa, have outlawed beatings in state and private schools.
The favored method of chastisement in American schools and homes is a wooden paddle.
“Teachers are restricted to paddling or spanking on the buttocks,” Sendek explains. “They can’t strike the arms or face.”
Nevertheless, Sendek cites numerous cases of lasting harm:
“We’ve seen serious injuries to the back and upper thighs and cases of pregnant adolescents miscarrying. Then there’s the psychological impact. For a student being bullied or having academic difficulties, who may be contemplating suicide, a beating can be the final straw.”
There are fewer restrictions on what parents can do. Sendek says:
“Americans feel like we fought for the independence on how to parent and our laws reflect that belief: freedom to speak, freedom to smack.”
A growing number of organizations have added their names to the call for an abolition of corporal punishment, including the Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, the American Psychiatric Association, The American Psychology Association and the National Education Association.
The organizers, including Sendek, hope that it will lead to America rising to the Second Division, where only parents may beat their children. In this group, we find Canada, Russia, Japan, China, South Africa and most of Europe – including the United Kingdom.
The country with the most anti-beating pedigree is Sweden. It was the first country to introduce universal prohibition in 1979. The highest tier is growing group of 29 nations practicing “universal prohibition” which includes New Zealand, the Netherlands, Tunisia, Kenya, Spain, Israel and Venezuela.