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Smacking prohibition linked to lower rate of youth violence

Countries with full ban on corporal punishment have far lower rates of violence in young males and females

Louise Prime

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Countries that have full prohibition of corporal punishment both in schools and at home have far lower rates of violence in young men and women, according to an international study* published online today in BMJ Open; school-only bans were associated with lower rates only among females. The authors said that although their findings could not show causation, they support the hypothesis that societies in which corporal punishment is prohibited are less violent for youth to grow up in than those where it is allowed.

The research team, led from McGill University in Montreal, Canada, designed a study to examine the association between bans on corporal punishment and the prevalence of youth violence in a large and diverse sample of countries. They analysed data from well-established school-based health surveys of students in 88 low- to high-income countries, which included a total of 403,604 adolescents. They calculated age-standardised prevalence of frequent physical fighting (i.e. 4+ episodes in the previous year) for male and female adolescents in each country. They then compared rates on those countries with full, partial and no bans on corporal punishment.

Their results revealed a cross-sectional association between national bans on corporal punishment in all settings and less frequent physical fighting in male and female adolescents; this association remained after controlling for factors including country wealth, violent crime (homicides) and social programmes that support parent education and aim to reduce adolescents’ exposure to violence at home and at school. Compared with 20 countries with no ban, the group of 30 countries with full bans (in schools and in the home) experienced 69% the rate of fighting in males and 42% in females.

The study authors said the results also indicated that 38 countries that ban corporal punishment in schools but not in the home (including the UK, US and Canada) have a lower prevalence of fighting than countries with no bans – but only in females (56% the rate found in countries without bans). Such partial bans were not associated with the prevalence of fighting in adolescent males.

They concluded: “Country prohibition of corporal punishment is associated with less youth violence. Whether bans precipitated changes in child discipline or reflected a social milieu that inhibits youth violence remains unclear due to the study design and data limitations. However, these results support the hypothesis that societies that prohibit the use of corporal punishment are less violent for youth to grow up in than societies that [do] not.”

* Elgar FJ, Donnelly PD, Michaelson V, et al. Corporal punishment bans and physical fighting in adolescents: an ecological study of 88 countries. BMJ Open 2018; 8: e021616. doi:10.1136/bmjopen-2018-021616.

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