From the Journals

Corporal punishment bans may reduce youth violence



Nationwide bans on corporal punishment of children in the home and school seem to have had a positive impact on fighting among adolescents, with males in those countries about 30% less likely to engage in fighting and females almost 60% less likely to do so, according to a study of school-based health surveys completed by 403,604 adolescents in 88 different countries published in BMJ Open.

“These findings add to a growing body of evidence on links between corporal punishment and adolescent health and safety. A growing number of countries have banned corporal punishment as an acceptable means of child discipline, and this is an important step that should be encouraged,” said Frank J. Elgar, PhD, of McGill University in Montreal and his colleagues. “Health providers are well positioned to offer practical and effective tools that support such approaches to child discipline. Cultural shifts from punitive to positive discipline happen slowly.”

The researchers placed countries into three categories: those that have banned corporate punishment in the home and at school; those that have banned it in school only (which include the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom); and those that have not banned corporal punishment in either setting.

Frequent fighting rates varied widely, Dr. Elgar and his colleagues noted, ranging from a low of less than 1% among females in Costa Rica, which bans all forms of corporal punishment, to a high of 35% among males in Samoa, which allows corporal punishment in both settings.

The 30 countries with full bans had rates of fighting 31% lower in males and 58% lower in females than the 20 countries with no ban. Thirty-eight countries with bans in schools but not in the home reported less fighting in females only – 44% lower than countries without bans.

The reasons for the gender difference in fighting rates among countries with partial bans is unclear, the authors said. “It could be that males, compared with females, experience more physical violence outside school settings or are affected differently by corporal punishment by teachers,” Dr. Elgar and his coauthors said. “Further investigation is needed.”

The study analyzed findings of two well-established surveys used internationally to measure fighting among adolescents: the World Health Organization Health Behavior in School-aged Children (HBSC) study and the Global School-based Health Survey (GSHS). The former is conducted among children ages 11, 13, and 15 in Canada, the United States, and most European countries every 4 years. The GSHS measures fighting among children aged 13-17 years in 55 low- and middle-income countries.

Among the limitations the study authors acknowledged was the inability to account for when the surveys were completed and when the bans were implemented, enforced, or modified, but they also pointed out the large and diverse sample of countries as a strength of the study.

Dr. Elgar and coauthors reported having no financial relationships. The work was supported by grants from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council, and the Canada Research Chairs programme.

SOURCE: Elgar FJ et al. BMJ Open. 2018;8:e021616.

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