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Corporal Punishment: A Violation of Human Rights?

ByGeorgina McNamara

Oct 3, 2019

The answer to that question is one of the most hotly debated topics today. Are we mentally scarring women and men, girls and boys, by allowing flogging, caning, beating, and whipping as a form of discipline? Should we condemn countries that use a law of a bygone age as an excuse to abuse and condemn their citizens? Ultimately, how can we even begin to condone a practice that uses violence in order to establish authority? 

Although sometimes misconstrued as an issue of the past, corporal punishment is a very real occurrence. Only 53 states fully prohibit it in settings such as the home, day care for children, schools, penal institutions and sentencing for crime. Furthermore, there are 10 countries that are still to outlaw it in any sense, including countries that are considered part of the developed world. In a particular case in Singapore in 2007, Yong Vui Kong, a Malaysian national who was caught trafficking heroin, was sentenced to life imprisonment and 15 strokes of the cane. His lawyer appealed that corporal punishment violated the constitution and was racist and discriminatory. However in 2015, three judges ruled that caning was constitutional and dismissed the appeal.

There are many arguments within the anti-corporal punishment movement that highlight not just the physical impact, but the psychological impact caning and flogging can have on the mind. Studies suggest it can lead to increased aggression in children, antisocial behaviour, increased criminal behaviour and a wider acceptance and use of other forms of violence. The fact that it can increase the likelihood of criminal behaviour makes the argument that it is necessary to discourage criminal activity trivial and ungrounded as a result.

Moreover, there have been recent cases that tell us caning is used as a method of forcing people to conform to not only the law, but religious beliefs as well. In February 2010, three Muslim women were caned in Malaysia by order of a sharia court for committing adultery. This was the first recorded incident of women being caned in Malaysia, and faced opposition from the Malaysian Bar Council and the advocacy group ‘Sisters of Islam’, who argued that the strokes went against federal civil laws prohibiting the punishment against women.

The level of gender discrimination within corporal punishment is also a crucial matter.  Despite corporal punishment being inflicted on both genders, there have been a growing number of instances where it is inflicted much more readily on boys rather than girls. Aside from the fact that men were often caned in the military (today still a predominantly male occupation), there are countries that specifically prohibit the caning of women, while legalising its use on men. In over 20 countries, including Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Pakisatan, corporal punishment is specifically restricted to men and boys only. There has also been evidence that suggests that despite countries such as the UK, Australia and Canada allowing for the striking of both girls and boys in the home or in day care, parents are more likely to hit their sons than their daughters. How is there still a belief that boys are somehow more deserving or more able to take the stroke of a cane or the back of a hand?

Corporal punishment is undoubtedly a violent and humiliating practice that is in direct violation of Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. What has happened to ‘no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’? We cannot condone such a barbaric practice that, as research suggests, may be doing more harm than good as it is. Consequently, how do you even justify the suffering it inflicts? 

Simply put, you cannot.



Image: via wikimedia commons 

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