Corporal Punishment – To spank or not to Spank?


There are two goals to achieve in the correction process. The first is helping our children take ownership of their decisions and the second is helping them on how to make wise decisions, that of course comes with moral maturity and proper training. The most effective way to bring attention to poor decisions is to allow children to experience the consequences of their choices whereby sometimes those choices result in pain. From digging up vast bushes to splitting anthills, kneeling in the hot sun and having the wrenching pain of the whip tear through their young bodies…the children have seen it all.

Rebellious and defiance acts sometimes produce their own pain as a natural outcome. When they do not, parents then must structure an appropriate form of consequence to motivate change. In both cases, some form of pain gets the attention of children faster than anything else. As it is said that “man may grow complacent with pleasure, but never with pain. Pain is an educator and comes in many different ways, including rebuke, isolation and various forms of consequences.

Punishment Brings Pain

Pain is a gift from God not the result of Adam’s fall into sin. It warns us that something is not right and needs attention. In fact in the human experience , nothing gets our attention as fast as pain. Pain has one purpose, it is an educator of our children, it helps a child focus and gain self-control over destructive behaviour, whether it is disobeying, talking back or an internal discourtesy.

In childhood, the pain associated with discipline comes in one of two ways; by natural or by structured consequences. With natural consequences pain is the natural outcome of wrong behaviour and with structured consequences pain is brought into the child’s life through some form of correction.

The bible says In Colossians 3:21 that “fathers provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged”

To spank or not to Spank?

Spanking children is still a common form of correction/punishment. In the simplest form spanking is to inflict discomfort on a child for the purpose of amending behaviour, thus the bible tells us to chastise. Chastisement does not always mean spanking. In Deuteronomy 8: 5 says, “know then in your heart that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you” Hebrews 12:6-7 says, “because the Lord disciplines those he loves and punishes everyone he accepts as a son.”

Proverbs 19:18 says “discipline your son, for in that there’s hope; do not be a willing party to his death.”

Corporal punishment has been normalised in our society. With a population of 85% Christian, Ugandans strongly agree with the Bible’s verse, Proverbs 13:24 which says: “Spare the rod and spoil the child.” A further 10% of Ugandans subscribe to Islam which allows the beating of women and children. Our traditions and cultures also focus on creating a macho male with subservient women and children under his control.

Parents responsibility

When parents carryout discipline that is thought-out and appropriate to the offence, everyone benefits, children, parents and society at large. When parents abuse their children whether by intent or neglect, humanity sinks deeper into its shame. Where does that leave parents in regard to spanking being thought as abuse? Should or should they not spank their children? If they spank their children, are they teaching violent behaviour or are they moulding the will of the child for the child’s and society’s benefit? Annette is a mother of four who admits to caning at least one of her children every day.

“Caning children is the only way they will learn, I have to make sure I cane them right from the time they start talking and misbehaving. If my father had not caned me, I would not be where I am,” is Annette’s deep conviction.

However opponents of spanking seem to view any form of spanking as abuse. Any form of discipline taken to an extreme or carried out in anger is potentially abusive. Under such circumstances, timeouts are abusive. These opponents equate the terms spanking and corporal punishment with words like hitting, violence, cruelty, aggression, assault, lashing, beating and whipping.

What does the Bible say?

However the bible doesn’t explicitly command spanking, but it does commend it in both the old and new testaments.

Proverbs 13:24, says “he who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him.”

Proverbs 22:15 says, “Folly is bound up in the heart of a child but the rod of discipline will drive it far from him.”

Hebrews 12:11 says “no discipline seems pleasant at the time but painful. Later on however it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

Proverbs 2:13-14 says “do not withhold discipline from a child, if you punish him with the rod, he will not die. Punish him with the rod and save his soul from death.”

1 Corinthians 4:21 says “what do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip or in love and with a gentle spirit?”

Proverbs 29:15 says “the rod of correction imparts wisdom but a child left to himself disgraces his mother.”

Swatting a child with the sole intent of bringing correction through reasonable pain is socially called spanking. This means to inflict pain with controlled force on an individual to amend an inner attitude.

What is an appropriate punishment instrument

Context and common sense seems to point to the use of a neutral instrument that is stiff and unbending is not appropriate.

Anything that causes tissue or muscle damage including overly flexible items such as fathers belt, extension cords, or anything that forms a whip-like motion are not good choices either. Regardless of what you use, if you leave a mark or a welt on your child it is probably a mistake. However if you’re leaving marks and welts on your child routinely, they can and probably will be considered excessive corporal punishment regardless of how loving your intentions may have been. Excessive punishment of this type is a kin to abusive punishment.

Please exercise wisdom and caution.

Law and Policy on Corporal Punishment

The Constitution Of Uganda 1995, the Children’s Act Cap 59, the Penal Code Act Cap 120 as well as international and regional human rights instruments that Uganda is party to all have provisions that protect children and aim at ensuring that they are treated with dignity, humanity, respect; and are disciplined in a way that will not emotionally or physically harm them.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) has a wide definition of corporal punishment. It includes any punishment in which physical force is used. It is intended to cause some degree of physical pain or discomfort.

Examples include slapping, spanking, hitting (with hands or an implement), kicking, shaking, throwing, burning, scalding or forced ingestion. The committee also recognises non-physical corporal punishment like that which belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats, threatens, scares or ridicules a child.

What does the Law in Uganda say?

The most common form of corporal punishment in Uganda is caning. A heap of whips is a common sight in a head teachers’ office. Article 24 of the Constitution expressly confers on every Ugandan the right to be free from any form of torture, inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment.

Under Article 44(a), this right is absolute and ought not to be violated no matter the circumstances.
Despite the clear legal provisions, schools and parents have played deaf and continued physically abusing children. Only a few schools like St. Peter’s Catholic Primary School Kanyanya have banned corporal punishment.

In 1997, The Ministry of Education for the first time suspended corporal punishment. In 2001, the ministry issued a circular blaming most of the strikes in schools on failure to follow the proper guidelines and properly address students’ grievances. Finally in 2006, corporal punishment was banned completely in all schools and colleges. 

Is there an alternative?

 The biggest fear of both teachers and parents is that without corporal punishment, a child will not be able to learn and grow up with good morals. There is also a looming belief that corporal punishment makes children morally better people.

“They used to cane us a lot at Naalya S.S. It would sometimes make us ashamed, but sometimes we would improve our mistakes,” says Norbert, a former student of the prestigious school known for churning out good grades.

“I think some people really need corporal punishment. I mean: how can a candidate student come late over and over again?” wonders Rosemary, a student of Kitante Secondary School.

Positive Discipline

The Raising Voices’ hand book on Positive Discipline, available at, explains that corporal punishment may in the short run make a child do what the other person wants it to do, but that is not a guarantee that the child has learnt and appreciates its mistakes.

Dipak Naker, a Co-Director at Raising Voices explains the phenomenon of displaced aggression, where violence simply fosters more violence.  Corporal punishment is thus a form of short-term solution that is not a deterrent. Unlike positive discipline which concerns itself with more than the here and now, and looks towards instilling long-lasting values.

“I used to beat my children for bad grades. Then I stopped and they started improving remarkably,” testifies Emmanuel Kusemererwa, a Senior Education Officer at the Ministry of Education.

Please exercise wisdom and caution.

Survey – Should corporal punishment be banned?