International Journal of Pediatrics

International Journal of Pediatrics / 2010 / Article

Research Article | Open Access

Volume 2010 |Article ID 672780 | https://doi.org/10.1155/2010/672780

Jennifer E. Lansford, Liane Peña Alampay, Suha Al-Hassan, Dario Bacchini, Anna Silvia Bombi, Marc H. Bornstein, Lei Chang, Kirby Deater-Deckard, Laura Di Giunta, Kenneth A. Dodge, Paul Oburu, Concetta Pastorelli, Desmond K. Runyan, Ann T. Skinner, Emma Sorbring, Sombat Tapanya, Liliana Maria Uribe Tirado, Arnaldo Zelli, "Corporal Punishment of Children in Nine Countries as a Function of Child Gender and Parent Gender", International Journal of Pediatrics, vol. 2010, Article ID 672780, 12 pages, 2010. https://doi.org/10.1155/2010/672780

Corporal Punishment of Children in Nine Countries as a Function of Child Gender and Parent Gender

Academic Editor: Ivan Barry Pless
Received25 Jan 2010
Revised14 Apr 2010
Accepted13 Jul 2010
Published23 Sep 2010

Abstract

Background. The purpose of this paper is to contribute to a global perspective on corporal punishment by examining differences between mothers' and fathers' use of corporal punishment with daughters and sons in nine countries. Methods. Interviews were conducted with 1398 mothers, 1146 fathers, and 1417 children (age range to 10 years) in China, Colombia, Italy, Jordan, Kenya, the Philippines, Sweden, Thailand, and the United States. Results. Across the entire sample, 54% of girls and 58% of boys had experienced mild corporal punishment, and 13% of girls and 14% of boys had experienced severe corporal punishment by their parents or someone in their household in the last month. Seventeen percent of parents believed that the use of corporal punishment was necessary to rear the target child. Overall, boys were more frequently punished corporally than were girls, and mothers used corporal punishment more frequently than did fathers. There were significant differences across countries, with reports of corporal punishment use lowest in Sweden and highest in Kenya. Conclusion. This work establishes that the use of corporal punishment is widespread, and efforts to prevent corporal punishment from escalating into physical abuse should be commensurately widespread.

1. Introduction

Prevention of physical abuse of children is a critical goal that has received attention from several leading advocates for children’s rights in international contexts, including UNICEF and the World Health Organization [1]. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by all except two members of the United Nations (Somalia, which has announced plans to ratify the Convention, and the United States), highlights children’s right to protection from abuse and other forms of harsh treatment [2]. The Convention pays particular attention to the rights of girls because of historical and cultural precedents that condone violence against women in particular contexts.

Within this context of protecting children from abuse, parents’ use of corporal punishment has increasingly come under the scrutiny of the international community. Corporal punishment can be defined as the use of physical force intended to cause pain, but not injury, for the purpose of correcting or controlling a child's behavior [3]. Attempts to reduce parents’ use of corporal punishment have sometimes served as an entry point for interventions because physically abusive incidents can stem from discipline attempts that escalate into physical violence [4], and parents who use corporal punishment are at greater risk for physically abusing their children [4, 5]. For example, one recent study found that 2% of parents who did not spank their children reported child physical abuse, 6% of parents who spanked their children reported child physical abuse, and 12% of parents who hit their children with an object reported child physical abuse [5]. Although most parents who use corporal punishment do not physically abuse their children, many researchers, practitioners, and human rights organizations have called for an end to all forms of corporal punishment, in part because of the difficulty in differentiating between physical discipline and physical abuse [6]. Forms of discipline such as shaking children (especially infants) [7] and beating children with implements [8] are often classified as being physically abusive, but milder forms of discipline such as spanking or slapping also have been questioned because they can result in both physical injuries and negative psychosocial outcomes [9]. Nevertheless, bans of corporal punishment have been controversial. For many individuals, whether corporal punishment is ever justified is a moral issue. However, some researchers have argued that data regarding whether corporal punishment has negative effects on child outcomes do not warrant a ban on all forms of corporal punishment [10, 11].

Concern about the physical abuse of children is warranted by the prevalence and severity of the problem. In a 10-year study of emergency room visits in the United States, more than 10% of young children’s blunt trauma injuries were attributed to abuse [12]. Children injured by abuse have more serious injuries, use more medical services, have longer hospital stays, and have poorer prognoses than children injured by accident do [12]. Clearly, preventing child abuse is an important public health goal.

Research has been inconsistent regarding whether parents use corporal punishment differently with daughters versus sons. Some studies report no differences in the corporal punishment of daughters versus sons, whereas other studies report that boys are more frequently corporally punished than girls [13]. Likewise, research has been inconsistent with respect to whether mothers and fathers differ in their use of corporal punishment. Some studies suggest that mothers use corporal punishment more frequently than fathers do [14], and other studies suggest more similarities than differences in mothers’ and fathers’ use of corporal punishment [15, 16].

Although many studies of corporal punishment have been conducted, nearly all have examined ethnic majority members in Western industrialized countries. By comparison, relatively little is known about patterns of corporal punishment use in distinct cultural and ethnic groups around the world. The social and legal contexts in which corporal punishment occurs vary considerably across countries. In this study, the contexts range from Sweden, in which the use of corporal punishment is illegal, to Kenya, in which the use of corporal punishment is widely accepted and used, as is the case in much of sub-Saharan Africa [17].

We compared mothers’ and fathers’ use of several discipline strategies that vary in severity, and we compared corporal punishment used with daughters and with sons. The samples were drawn from nine countries (China, Colombia, Italy, Kenya, Jordan, the Philippines, Sweden, Thailand, and the United States) that have been found in previous research to vary in the frequency with which parents report using physical discipline strategies [1820]. The overarching research questions were as follows. First, across countries, what are the proportions of parents who use mild corporal punishment, use severe corporal punishment, and believe that the use of corporal punishment is necessary to rear their child? Second, do parents differ in their use of corporal punishment and in their belief about the necessity of using corporal punishment with daughters versus sons? Third, do mothers and fathers differ in the frequency with which they use corporal punishment? Fourth, is the gender composition of the parent-child dyad important, such that mother-son, mother-daughter, father-son, and father-daughter dyads differ in the frequency with which corporal punishment is used? Because we had data available from parents and children from nine countries, we also addressed the question of whether parents and children differed in their reports of the frequency with which parents used corporal punishment and whether there were differences among the countries in parents’ reported use of and beliefs regarding the necessity of corporal punishment.

2. Materials and Methods

2.1. Participants

As part of the larger Parenting Across Cultures Project, 1417 families provided data. Children ( ) from all 1417 families provided data, as 1398 mothers or mother figures (age range 19 to 70 years M 36.93, SD 6.26) and 1146 fathers or father figures did (age range 22 to 76 years, M 39.96, SD 6.51). Data were provided by both parents in 1127 families (80%), by just the mother in 271 families (19%), and by just the father in 19 families (1%). Eighty-two percent of the parents were married. Nonresidential parents were also asked to provide data. Ninety-seven percent of the adult respondents were the child’s biological parents; the remaining 3% included stepparents, grandparents, or other adults who served as the child’s main mother or father figure. In the United States, the sample was 35% European American, 33% African American, and 32% Hispanic. In Kenya, the sample was from the Luo ethnic group, which is the third largest ethnic group in Kenya (13% of the population), after the Kikuyu (22%) and Luhya (14%) ethnic groups. Although there are ethnic minorities and immigrant families to varying degrees, the samples in the other participating countries identified with the major cultural group of the country. The sample size for each country is presented in Table 1; countries did not differ by child age or gender.


Mild corporal punishmentSevere corporal punishment
GirlsBoys GirlsBoys

China ( )4860 1015
Colombia ( )6863 154
Italy ( )6166 1223
Jordan ( )6680 2131
Kenya ( )8297 6162
Philippines ( )7177 98
Sweden ( )96 00N/A
Thailand ( )5872
U.S.A. ( )3836
Full sample ( )5458


Note. Values reflect the percentages of families in which either the mother or father reports that either the mother or father or anyone in the household has used mild corporal punishment and severe corporal punishment in the last month and chi-square tests of differences by child gender. Mild corporal punishment included spanking, hitting, or slapping with a bare hand; hitting or slapping on the hand, arm, or leg; shaking; or hitting with an object. Severe corporal punishment included: hitting or slapping the child on the face, head, or ears; beating the child repeatedly with an implement (beating was not asked in the U.S.A.).

Mothers, fathers, and children were recruited to participate from schools that serve socioeconomically diverse populations in each participating country: China (Jinan and Shanghai), Colombia (Medellín), Italy (Rome and Naples), Jordan (Zarqa), Kenya (Kisumu), the Philippines (Manila), Sweden (Trollhättan), Thailand (Chiang Mai), and the United States (Durham, NC). Letters describing the study were sent home with children, and parents were asked to return a signed form if they were willing to be contacted about the study (in some countries) and contacted by phone to follow up on the letter (in other countries). Rates of agreement to participate, as indicated by returning the signed form or agreeing over the telephone, ranged across sites from 24% to almost 100%. Families were then enrolled in the study until the target sample size was reached in each country. To make each country’s sample as representative as possible of the city from which it was drawn, families of students from private and public schools were sampled in the approximate proportion which they represented in the population of the city. Furthermore, children were sampled from schools serving high-, middle-, and low-income families in the approximate proportion which these income groups represented in the local population. These sampling procedures resulted in an economically diverse sample that ranged from low income to high income within each site.

2.2. Procedures

Interviews were conducted between 2008-2009 in participants’ homes, schools, or at another location chosen by the participants. Individual family members were interviewed separately so they could not hear or see one another’s responses. The study measures and procedures were approved by an ethics committee in each participating country, and participants were treated ethically in accordance with the Declaration of Helsinki. Adult participants signed statements of informed consent for their own and for the target child’s participation. Children signed statements of assent. In these statements, participants acknowledged that they understood that concerns about child abuse would be reported as required by law. Locally accepted practices and resources in each site were used in five cases in which interviewers became concerned that physical abuse was occurring. In addition, we had lists of available sources of help with parenting issues and other types of assistance in each site that could be conveyed to parents if the need arose.

The entire interview lasted 1.5–2 hours. Mothers and fathers were given the option of participating orally or in writing; all children were interviewed orally. Rating scales were provided in the form of visual aids to help parents and children remember the response options as they answered questions. Depending on the site, parents were given modest financial compensation for their participation, children were given small gifts, families were entered into drawings for prizes, or modest financial contributions were made to participating children’s schools. The amounts varied across countries so that the compensation was appropriately motivating without being coercive.

2.3. Measures
2.3.1. Corporal Punishment in the Last Month and Belief in Necessity of Corporal Punishment

Using items developed by UNICEF [21] for their Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, mothers and fathers were asked whether they or anyone in their household had used each of six forms of corporal punishment with the target child in the last month. Using scoring criteria developed by UNICEF’s Statistics and Monitoring Section of the Division of Policy and Practice [21], we constructed two discipline indicators. The mild physical discipline indicator reflected the proportion of parents who indicated that they or someone in their household had used one or more of the following forms of corporal punishment with the child in the last month: spanking, hitting, or slapping with a bare hand; hitting or slapping on the hand, arm, or leg; shaking; or hitting with an object. The severe physical discipline indicator reflected the proportion of parents who indicated that they or someone in their household had used one or both of the following forms of corporal punishment with the child in the last month: hitting or slapping the child on the face, head, or ears; beating the child repeatedly with an implement (this final item was not asked in the United States). An additional item was asked, “do you believe that in order to bring up (raise, educate) (target child’s name) properly, you need to physically punish him/her?” Mothers and fathers responded yes (coded as 1) or no (coded as 0) for each item.

2.3.2. Frequency of Corporal Punishment in the Last Year

Mothers and fathers were asked how frequently in the last year ( , 2   less than once a month, 3 about once a month, 4 = about once a week, 5 = almost every day) they used two types of corporal punishment: (1) spanking, slapping, or hitting; (2) grabbing or shaking. Children were asked how frequently in the last year their mothers and their fathers disciplined them in each of those ways. Children’s reports of how frequently their mothers and fathers used each form of corporal punishment were significantly correlated with mothers’ and fathers’ reports of how frequently they used each form of corporal punishment (range of correlations was  .12 to  .41; all ).

The two sets of questions about corporal punishment used different timeframes because they were designed to elicit different kinds of information from the respondents. The dichotomous questions about whether any of the six forms of corporal punishment had been used in the last month were designed to assess recent behavior. The questions about frequency of use of two specific forms of corporal punishment within the last year were designed to capture nuances regarding frequency (because spanking less than once a month, for example, would be quite different from spanking every day in terms of its implications for the parent-child relationship and, likely, children’s adjustment).

3. Results

Across the entire sample from all nine countries, according to at least one reporter, 54% of girls and 58% of boys had experienced mild corporal punishment, and 13% of girls and 14% of boys had experienced severe corporal punishment by their parents or someone in their household in the last month (with the caveat that parents in the United States were not asked whether they had beaten the target child with an implement). Seventeen percent of parents believed that it was necessary to use corporal punishment to rear the target child.

Chi-square analyses were conducted to address the question of whether there were differences in parents’ use of corporal punishment with girls versus boys. Table 1 shows the proportions of parents within each country who had used mild corporal punishment and severe corporal punishment with girls and boys in the last month. Because parents were reporting on their own use of corporal punishment or the use of corporal punishment by someone else in their household for the mild and severe corporal punishment items, we combined mothers’ and fathers’ reports so that the data in Table 1 reflect whether either parent reported use of mild or severe corporal punishment by anyone in the household. As shown, larger proportions of parents used mild corporal punishment with boys than girls in China and Kenya, and a larger proportion of parents used severe corporal punishment with boys than girls in Italy. The proportions of parents in Colombia, Jordan, the Philippines, Sweden, Thailand, and the United States who reported using corporal punishment with girls and boys in the last month did not significantly differ.

Chi-square analyses also were conducted to address the question of whether there were differences in parents’ beliefs about the necessity of using corporal punishment with boys versus girls. As shown in Table 2, larger proportions of both mothers and fathers in China believed that it was necessary to use corporal punishment with boys than with girls. Parents in the other countries did not differ significantly in their beliefs about the necessity of using corporal punishment with boys versus girls.


Mothers’ beliefFathers’ belief
GirlsBoys GirlsBoys

China 20
Colombia
Italy
Jordan
Kenya
Philippines
Sweden
Thailand
U.S.A.
Full sample


Note. Values reflect the percentages of parents who reported that they believe that using corporal punishment is necessary to rear the target child and Chi-square tests of differences by child gender.

The next set of analyses focused on how frequently parents had used two types of physical discipline in the last year. Repeated-measures analyses of variance were conducted separately for each country to examine differences by child and parent gender in the frequency with which parents used corporal punishment in the last year. In these analyses, parent gender was the within-subjects factor and child gender was the between-subjects factor. Interactions between parent gender and child gender were computed to examine whether there were differences in mothers’ discipline of daughters versus sons compared to fathers’ discipline of daughters versus sons. Table 3 shows results of these analyses based on parents’ reports of the frequency with which they used corporal punishment in the last year. Table 4 shows comparable results based on children’s reports of the frequency with which each of their parents had used corporal punishment on them in the last year. Overall, the means shown in Tables 3 and 4 indicate fairly infrequent use of physical punishment (i.e., less than once a month to about once a month).


Spank, slap, or hitGrab or shake
MotherFatherParent gender F DaughterSonChild gender MotherFatherParent gender DaughterSonChild gender

China
Colombia
Italy
Jordan
Kenya
Philippines
Sweden
Thailand
U.S.A.


Note. Values are means, standard deviations, and F-tests from repeated measures analyses of variance with parent gender as the within-subjects factor and child gender as the between-subjects factor. Significant Parent Gender X Child Gender interactions for spanking, slapping, or hitting in Colombia and Kenya are described in the text. Frequency of corporal punishment was rated as , , .

Spank, slap, or hitGrab or shake
MotherFatherParent gender DaughterSonChild gender MotherFatherParent gender DaughterSonChild gender

China
Colombia
Italy
Jordan
Kenya
Philippines
Sweden
Thailand
U.S.A.


Note. Values are means, standard deviations, and F-tests from repeated measures analyses of variance with parent gender as the within-subjects factor and child gender as the between-subjects factor. Significant Parent Gender X Child Gender interactions for spanking, slapping, or hitting in Colombia, Italy, and the Philippines are described in the text. Frequency of corporal punishment was rated as 1 never, 2 less than once a month, 3 about once a month, 4 about once a week, and 5 almost every day.

As shown in Table 3, in seven of the nine countries, mothers reported spanking, slapping, or hitting their target child significantly more frequently than fathers did in the same families. In Colombia, this parent-gender effect was qualified by a significant interaction with child gender, (1, 106) = 7.40, , such that mothers reported spanking, slapping, or hitting daughters more frequently than sons, whereas fathers reported spanking, slapping, or hitting sons more frequently than daughters. In Kenya, this parent-gender effect was qualified by a significant interaction with child gender, (1, 98) = 4.31, , such that mothers reported spanking, slapping, or hitting sons and daughters with equal frequency, but fathers reported spanking, slapping, or hitting sons more frequently than daughters. Only in Sweden (where any spanking, slapping, or hitting at all was reported by only 5 parents) and in Thailand were there no significant differences in the frequency with which mothers and fathers reported spanking, slapping, or hitting their target child. There was a main effect of child gender in China and Jordan; in both countries, sons were spanked, slapped, or hit more frequently than daughters. With respect to grabbing or shaking the child, mothers reported more frequently using this discipline strategy than fathers did in Colombia and Italy, whereas fathers reported more frequently using this discipline strategy than mothers did in Sweden. There was a main effect of child gender on frequency of grabbing or shaking in Jordan and the United States; in both countries, boys were grabbed and shaken more frequently than girls.

As shown in Table 4, there was a significant main effect of parent gender on spanking, slapping, or hitting in Italy, Jordan, and Kenya. Kenyan and Jordanian children reported that their mothers spanked, slapped, or hit them more frequently than their did fathers. In Italy, the main effect of parent gender was qualified by a significant Parent Gender X Child Gender interaction; boys in Italy reported that their mothers and fathers spanked, slapped, or hit them with equal frequency, whereas girls in Italy reported that their mothers spanked, slapped, or hit them more frequently than their fathers did (1, 196) = 6.00, . There was no significant main effect of parent gender in Colombia or the Philippines, but there were significant Parent Gender X Child Gender interactions in both countries; boys in Colombia and the Philippines reported that their fathers spanked, slapped, or hit them more frequently than their mothers did, whereas girls in Colombia and the Philippines reported that their mothers spanked, slapped, or hit them more frequently than their fathers did, (1, 106) = 5.34 in Colombia and (1,104) = 6.13 in the Philippines, both . With respect to grabbing or shaking, children in China and Sweden reported that their fathers grabbed or shook them more than their mothers did, whereas children in Kenya reported that their mothers grabbed or shook them more than their fathers did. In Sweden and the United States, boys reported that their parents had grabbed or shaken them more frequently in the last year than girls reported.

We next compared children’s reports of how frequently their mothers and fathers corporally punished them with mothers’ and fathers’ reports of how frequently they corporally punished their children. Results of paired samples t-tests are shown in Table 5. In only two of the countries (China and Kenya) were there significant differences between children’s and their mothers’ reports of the frequency with which mothers spanked, slapped, or hit the child; there were no differences between children’s and their fathers’ reports of the frequency with which fathers spanked, slapped, or hit the child. There were more differences between children’s and parents’ reports related to how frequently the parents grabbed or shook the child, with significant differences between children’s and mothers’ reports in six of the nine countries (China, Colombia, Italy, Kenya, Thailand, and the United States) and significant differences between children’s and fathers’ reports in three countries (China, Colombia, and Kenya). Across the two forms of corporal punishment and all nine countries, eight of the differences reflected parents reporting using corporal punishment more frequently than their children reported that they did, whereas three of the differences reflected children reporting that their parents used corporal punishment more frequently than their parents reported that they did. However, for 25 of the 36 tests, there were no significant differences between children’s and their parents’ reports of how frequently the parents used the two forms of corporal punishment.


Spank, slap, or hitGrab or shake
MotherChildtFatherChildtMotherChildtFatherChild

China
Colombia
Italy
Jordan
Kenya
Philippines  
Sweden