The question of the cruel treatment of children has been increasingly discussed in society, but this is barely associated with the problem of corporal punishment of children in the family. Children’s rights that are protected by the Australian Constitution and the Code of Ethics are assigned the paramount importance and to be achieved via “social development, social and systemic change, advocacy, and ethical conduct research” (Code of Ethics 2008, p. 10).
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Considering the mentioned issue from the stance of social work, it is necessary to emphasize that children’s rights in the view of physical punishment are not protected by the law since it is legal in case if “reasonable”. In spite of the mentioned fact, Australian children still have the right to report about the cases of cruel treatment, and the subsequent investigation is to be provided. According to the Australian Children’s Commissioners and Guardians (ACCG) group, all children have the right to be protected from any form of violence.
It is critical to collaborate with psychologists, educators, counselors, and other interested parties while attempting to address the problem. It is expected to provide an in-depth analysis of the selected social issue with the focus on Australia based on the thorough literature review with the aim of contributing to theory and practice in the field.
Corporate Punishment (CP) refers to the concept of a disciplinary strategy used by parents in order to enhance the behaviors of their children. Kish and Newcombe (2015, p. 121) define it as “the use of physical force with the intention of causing a child to experience bodily pain or discomfort so as to correct or punish the child’s behavior”. As noted by the United Nations (UN) Convention, CP may be expressed in smacking, slapping, kicking, burning, spanking, pinching, bruising, etc.
The problem of CP presents a serious threat to both the physical and psychological health of children. During the two-year period of 2015 and 2016, 45,714 substantiated reports of childhood maltreatment and harm were received by the Child Family Community Australia (CFCA), of which physical abuse composes 18 percent (Child abuse and neglect statistics 2017, par. 14). However, the recent studies reveal some controversy, since some scholars regard it as “an effective means of discipline and a way of controlling undesired behavior”, while others highlight its anti-social impacts (Kish & Newcombe 2015, p. 122).
In Australia, where the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) is not accepted, CP remains legal in case it is “reasonable”. However, only New South Wales defined what belongs to “reasonable” – force in relation to a child that exceeds “short periods”, as stated in the Crimes Amendment (Child Protection-Physical Mistreatment) Act 2001 (NSW).
Prevalence of the Issue
To begin with, it is essential to specify the prevalence of CP in Australia. According to the official website of CFCA, child protection statistics is the most relevant indicator that reflects the number of abused and neglected children. Even though there is no nationwide methodological basis to measure the mentioned prevalence, several recent studies offer significant insights concerning the topic. In particular, the research based on the systematic review by Moore et al. (2015) indicates that 8,9 percent (6,7 percent of females and 9,9 percent of males) of Australian children aged between 15 and 18 years have to encounter physical punishment annually.
Another study that utilizes interviews with respondents suggests that among children from zero to 17, six percent are physically abused and neglected (Chu et al. 2013). As a rule, CP occurs in difficult settings such as disobedience, a child’s behavior that does not meet parents’ expectations, stress, etc.
How does Corporal Punishment Affect Children?
Several myths, representations of a significant part of the population that do not correspond to or do not fully match the reality yet affect behaviors of people, exist around the issue of children’s physical punishment. In their empirical study, Kish and Newcombe (2015) investigate CP myths and conclude that they are likely to anticipate disciplining behaviors, thus presenting a powerful tool for social work to prevent physical punishment.
The scholars develop a Corporate Punishment Myths Scale (CPMS) and assess 337 Australian participants with the median age of 19,55. The quantitative method of research selected by the authors is appropriate for this study since it aligns well with the purpose stated. From the given study, a reader comprehends that traditionally parents use the two types of myths: harmless and effective ones. For instance, arguing that it is the only way that children may understand or that it teaches them to respect adults, parents resort to CP.
Kish and Newcombe (2015) reckon that CP is multidimensional and measurable, thus fulfilling the gap in research associated with defining and evaluating the level of physical punishment in relation to children. Nevertheless, one may note that this study lacks critical qualitative data such as some psychometric indicators, reasons driven by parents, and their intensity.
Speaking of the impacts made by CP on children, it seems important to pinpoint the two sides of the issue. While the majority of studies specify its adverse effects expressed in physical and psychological harm, the opposition believes that some extent of force may merely help to control children. In their study, Gracia and Herrero (2008) focus on the national probability sample of Spain, namely, 2,316 adults over 18 years. Utilizing survey method and multivariate logistic regression, the scholars ascertained that 56.3 percent of respondents consider CP rearing, while the rest of them perceive as frequent. It was also specified that women are more prone to practice the physical punishment of children rather than men.
This study is undoubtedly valuable as it analyses CP in the context of sociodemographics. Speaking more precisely, one may argue that CP should be regarded as a social problem that may depend on gender, family history, experience, education, and other characteristics. For example, children who encountered CP are at a higher risk of applying the same measures towards their own daughters and sons. The only limitation to the research by Gracia and Herrero (2008) is that the authors highlighted no longitudinal effects as this point may significantly affect the results.
Consistent with Gracia and Herrero (2008), the negative impact of physical punishment is stressed by Moore et al. (2015). The authors reckon that in some cases, corporal punishment may cause the child to hate a parent who degrades his or her human dignity or displays cruelty towards him or her, thus violating children’s rights. More to the point, corporal punishment can be a trauma to a child’s psyche and then turn in, for example, sadomasochism that contradicts the right to protection from any violence. Corporal methods of punishment can instill children with fear of parents and thoughtless obedience.
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It should also be clarified that there may be some positive outcomes of corporal punishment. Even though they are, as a rule, of the short-term impact, discipline, obedience, and control serve as the key advantages. One more argument in favor of CP is associated with its severity and frequency. Children tend to explore the world around and get some bruises, each of which demonstrates to them the limitations that exist in life. Pain associated with these events teaches them to avoid repeating the same mistakes in the future. Therefore, when one of the parents gives well-deserved slaps in response to intentional disobedience, a child is taught the same lesson (Kish & Newcombe 2015). The mentioned point of view suggests that little pain associated with such deliberate behaviors as disobedience, rudeness, selfishness, incontinence, etc. is designed to prevent them likewise the difficulties experienced in the physical world.
After identifying the impacts of corporal punishment on children that were evidenced by the literature, it is necessary to reveal views of children on the given issue. The article by Saunders and Goddard (2008) that is based on qualitative study presents children’s voices on how they perceive causes, processes, and consequences of physical punishment. The sample involves 34 parents and grandparents and 31 children who answer such interview questions as to what is the frequency of CP, what are the settings, methods, and parents’ motivation. The given study is rather important as it explains the issue from the perspective of children.
For instance, approximately half of them believe that parents have the right to punish them, and it is appropriate. A similar tendency is pinpointed by Twum-Danso Imoh (2013) who reckons that the majority of children involved in his study reported that they feel ashamed while their parents punish them physically. However, 76 percent of them believe that CP should not be declared illegal, as noted by Twum-Danso Imoh (2013, p. 478). The above fact shows that CP roots from previous generations that neglected children’s rights.
Both studies mentioned earlier provide some insights into children on how their parents may punish them from avoiding CP. For instance, children “prefer advising and taking away privileges” (Twum-Danso Imoh 2013, p. 477). Much of this discussion takes place under the umbrella of children’s reports and interviews. Another potential way to point on their mistakes is an open dialogue and clear explanation of the adverse consequences of the lack of discipline. These studies are based on the qualitative research method that allows providing extensive comments on the collected data in order to understand the issue in an in-depth manner (Hewitt-Taylor 2011).
Rights of Children and Physical Punishment
Every child has an inherent right to a childhood free of corporal punishment and abuse, according to UNCRC that is, however, not yet accepted by Australian states. The preamble to UNCRC reaffirms that in accordance with the principles of the UN, the recognition of the intrinsic dignity along with equal and absolute rights of all members of society is the paramount basis for ensuring freedom, peace, justice, and justice worldwide.
The preamble to the Convention also recalls that the UN proclaimed that children have the right to special care and assistance. The international law considers CP as a “violation of children’s fundamental human rights to respect for human dignity and physical integrity” (Twum-Danso Imoh 2013, p. 475). The study conducted by Twum-Danso Imoh (2013) uses the Nuffield Foundation project to investigate children’s views on CP in Ghana. A series of interviews and 158 questionnaires are conducted with 23 children aged between 10 and 16.
Thus, the majority of children believe that physical punishment is an act of love and that should not be accepted as illegal. The core point to note, however, is that it is of great importance to consult and educate children on their rights. Having no idea of the other life, it should quite difficult to imagine a childhood without CP. Such a situation makes it clear that children’s voices serve as the key indicator of the complexity of the issue.
It goes without saying that various policies and programs are developed and implanted by social work representatives to address the problem of the physical punishment of children. However, according to findings of Twum-Danso Imoh (2013) that go in line with those of Saunders and Goddard (2008), there is a need for confronting the mentioned views to ensure children’s right to life without maltreatment. In this regard, these studies prove the necessity in the further research to help parents and social workers to understand and support the safety and well-being of children on the basis of international and local experience and conceptual apparatus. The limitation of the study by Twum-Danso Imoh (2013) relates to its study design. It would, perhaps, be better if the author uses the mixed-method research to collect, analyze, and interpret quantitative data as well (Hewitt-Taylor 2011).
Corporal Punishment and Child Abuse
The meaning of relationships between children and parents is not in obedience of the former to the latter under fear, but in revealing a child’s identity as a person, helping to reveal his or her best qualities. Fréchette et al. (2015) link child abuse and physical punishment, namely, spanking. The sample includes 370 university students who completed survey questions regarding the experience of physical abuse.
This qualitative study is well-designed research with properly selected and used methods since it reflects all the necessary points to reveal the theme. Specifically, it is stated that people who encountered CP in childhood have higher risks of being involved in it again. In other words, the physical punishment of children creates the risk of child abuse, thus shaping the endless series of violence. Fréchette et al. (2015, p. 137) also stress the fact that the “punishment and abuse are only quantitatively different, varying in terms of severity or degree of physical harm to the child”. This means that spanking, for example, may be regarded as both abuse and punishment, depending on a certain situation. The limitation of this study is that one cannot claim that spanking leads to abuse as there are no longitudinal or prospective studies, yet it creates the continuum of violence.
Causes of the Issue
Traditionally, physical punishment is utilized to discipline “naughty” children by parents who believe in the effectiveness of this method. In many senses, the application of CP depends on parents: they may be ignorant, aggressive, stressed, under drug or alcohol impact, or just copying what their parents utilized in relation to them in their childhood (Fréchette et al. 2015). Another factor, which leads to corporal punishment refers to the formation of similar behavior in children.
Parents spank their children as they are not able to control their behavior in moments of anger. In this case, they lose the moral right to demand control of their actions from children. As a result of frequent punishments, a child becomes convinced in the fact that he or she thus redeems the offense committed. Children cannot develop a healthy sense of guilt, which becomes an internal limiter of pranks. Instead, fear of punishment appears.
As this study shows, the issue of corporal punishment and its role in affecting children as well as their future is highly significant and relevant. It is necessary to conduct further research on the physical punishment of children in Australian families. It is also critical to raise the issue of the importance of developing some legislative measures aimed primarily at parents with a view to promoting non-violent ways of disciplining children and corporal punishment prohibition. Thus, the research question is as follows: what are the legislative options that can be implemented to address the social issue of corporal punishment in Australia?
Child abuse and neglect statistics 2017. Web.
Chu, DA, Williams, LM, Harris, AWF, Bryant, RA, & Gatt, JM 2013, ‘Early life trauma predicts self-reported levels of depressive and anxiety symptoms in nonclinical community audits: relative contributions of early life stressor types and adult trauma exposure’, Journal of Psychiatric Research, vol. 47, no. 1, pp. 23-32.
Code of Ethics 2008. Web.
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Moore, SE, Scott, JG, Ferrari, AJ, Mills, R, Dunne, MP, & Erskine, HE 2015, ‘Burden attributable to child maltreatment in Australia’, Child Abuse and Neglect, vol. 48, no. 2, pp. 208-220.
Saunders, BJ & Goddard, C 2008, ‘Some Australian children’s perceptions of physical punishment in childhood’, Children & Society, vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 405-417.
Twum-Danso Imoh, A 2013, ‘Children’s perceptions of physical punishment in Ghana and the implications for children’s rights’, Childhood, vol. 20, no. 4, pp. 473-486.