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Spare the rod, less violent the teen

Published online 24 October 2018

Countries that ban corporal punishment are less violent for youth to grow up in.

Letizia Diamante

Gerhard Leber / Alamy Stock Photo
Spanking and slapping to discipline children remains legally and socially permitted in many parts of the world. A new study finds that teenagers fight less frequently in countries where corporal punishment is fully banned in homes and schools.

These findings come from one of the largest international analyses of youth violence to date, including surveys of more than 400,000 adolescents in 88 countries. In countries where neither teachers nor parents are allowed to hit their children, frequent fighting (defined as four or more physical fights per year) was reduced by 31 per cent in boys and 42 per cent in girls, compared with countries with no bans. Countries with partial bans (at school but not at home) showed reduced violence among girls, but no significant improvement among boys. Interestingly, Cambodia, Myanmar and Malawi had the lowest prevalence of frequent fighters in young men, revealing that national wealth is not a determining factor. 

The results also showed that Arab countries tend to have high levels of youth violence, especially in boys. Even in Tunisia, the only Arab country with a full ban, 30 per cent of male teenagers experienced frequent fighting. Among the countries involved in the study, Jordan, Kuwait, Oman, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen forbid corporal punishment in schools, while Egypt, Iraq, Morocco, the Palestinian territories, and Qatar have no bans in place. According to a separate international study conducted by UNICEF, Yemen and Egypt registered the highest rates of harsh physical punishment of children aged 2 to 14 years.

“All Arab countries should have regulations in place that ban corporal punishment at home and school. However, enforcing such laws is not the only way to control youth violence. Educating parents and teachers on the importance of fostering environments for the wellbeing of children and adolescents is also necessary,” explains Suha M. Hashem Al-Hassan, professor of early childhood, special education and applied behaviour analysis at the Hashemite University in Jordan. She was not involved in the study.

The research shows an association, but cannot establish whether bans have directly resulted in a decline in youth violence. “It is possible that a change in the law, and all the debate around it, raised awareness and discouraged parents from using harsh physical punishment, or that full bans are becoming the law in societies where smacking is rare and violence is low. We need more data and research to determine which is the case,” explains Frank J. Elgar, corresponding author of the study and professor at McGill University in Canada.


Elgar, F. J. et al. Corporal punishment bans and physical fighting in adolescents: an ecological study of 88 countries. BMJ Open 8, e021616 (2018).