Should we outlaw spanking?

Authors of a recent article in the Canadian Medical Association Journal want Section 43 (the "spanking" law) removed from the Criminal Code of Canada

By Emily Sadler
Should we outlaw spanking?

To most kids, the threat of being spanked is horrifying. (I remember being threatened with spanking once by my babysitter’s grandmother. I was terrified!) The threat itself is often enough to scare a kid into obedience. But that doesn’t make it right. Right? Or does it?

For years, physical punishment of a child — whether it was a teacher's ruler on the knuckles or spanking by a parent — was common practice.

But over the past few decades, this has become less a question of parental discretion and more of an issue of human rights.

This multi-faceted issue marks a significant movement, as it pits the rights of a parent to discipline how they see fit versus those of the child to be kept safe from harm.

For years, the Criminal Code of Canada has defended a parent's decision to use physical punishment (with some restrictions). Section 43 ("Correction of a child by force—known as the "spanking" law) states that:

Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances.

In an age when spanking is largely publicly frowned upon, this law seems out of date. Though some of the commenters in our recent article Is there such a smart thing as "smart" spanking? might disagree.

But the authors of an article in a recent issue of the Canadian Medical Association Journal say spanking goes beyond what happens in a family's home and are asking physicians to request that Section 43 be removed from the Code by the Supreme Court of Canada. And they’ve got the support of many researchers (and plenty of physicians too).


As stated in the CMAJ’s article (via this story from CBC), researchers have found spanking often produces unintended negative results.

For example, studies reveal, children who were the target of physical punishment such as spanking are more likely to show abusive behaviour tendencies later on in life. They also have a higher chance of developing a mental illness such as depression or alcoholism as they grow older, among other issues, due to a disruption in parent-child attachment, which effects how a child's brain deals with stress. Not only this, but the CMAJ article's authors also state that Section 43 undermines anti-spanking public health messages, thus posing a public health threat.

Do you agree that Section 43 should be removed from the Criminal Code?

This article was originally published on Feb 10, 2012

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