Medical Journal Calls for an End to Spanking

Box: The debate over whether spanking should be banned may once again be heating up. One of Canada’s top medical journals, the Canadian Medical Association Journal, is calling for action to strike down Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada, which outlines legally allowable “corrective” physical punishment of children by their parents.

The Supreme Court of Canada has previously upheld the Criminal Code provision that considered spanking a viable disciplinary action by a parent, by a 6-3 margin in a landmark 2004 ruling. The Supreme Court ruled that spanking is not illegal as long as it “is part of a genuine effort to educate the child, poses no reasonable risk of harm that is more than transitory and trifling, and is reasonable under the circumstances.”  A slight smack to the hand or bottom is generally not considered against the law, but any substantial use of force – including any kind of physical contact against very young children or teenagers and any physical contact on the head or face – may very well be (this means, in our community, thapars or chapades to the face may very well be considered child abuse).

The Journal’s editor-in-chief, John Fletcher, in arguing for a ban on spanking, calls it an “excuse for poor parenting.”  In his editorial, he does not argue for criminalization, indicating it would be wrong to criminalize the occasional poor parenting choice. “If the aim is to improve parenting,” he writes, “then calling the police is the wrong approach.” Instead, he suggests the intent is to spotlight how ineffective spanking truly is.

Numerous research studies have suggested that children that are physically disciplined are more aggressive than children who are not spanked. This is likely related to the fact that they see aggression as an acceptable way to act because that again is what they’ve learned. For example, if another child comes and plays with a toy that your child was playing with, they may hit in order to get that toy back. Children often perceive physical discipline against them as a message that they are bad – rather than what they did was bad – and that leads to low self-esteem. Research studies have also found that children who were physically disciplined are more likely to grow up to be adults who suffer from depression, alcoholism and thoughts of suicide.

The more physically disciplined a child is, the less likely they will respond to such discipline. The less likely they are to respond, the more frequent and severe the discipline may become. It’s a vicious cycle, one that destroys the bond that should exist between a parent and child.  Adults that were frequently physically disciplined as children often have little to no relationship with their parents because that bond was destroyed earlier in their lives.

In the editorial, Fletcher argues that parents need to be educated on how to discipline their children. “Although it is not necessary to make spanking a crime to encourage alternative approaches to parenting, Section 43 of the Criminal Code of Canada sends the wrong message,” he argues.  “It is a constant excuse for parents to cling to an ineffective method of child discipline when better approaches are available.”