To spank a child or not to


The practice of caning children has existed since time immemorial and this was a form of punishment aimed at bringing unruly children into either submission or obedience.

I recently watched a young boy hurling insults at his mother on a video that has gone viral on the Internet, something I could never imagine happening when I was growing up.

Spanking can be very effective because it is important for example that a classroom does not suffer from disruptive or badly behaved students.

This method remains a widely used discipline technique in most Zimbabwean families, but it has also been a subject of controversy within the child development and psychological communities.

It is the most commonly practiced strategies used by parents to alter long term behavior of their children. But it is problematic because there is frequent overlap with what pediatricians and psychologists consider to be abuse.

I was told of a Nigerian pupil who was a bully at a United Kingdom school; a situation that resulted in school authorities summoning parents of a Grade Seven pupil.

unruly kids

The father of the child is said to have expressed shock and disgust at the son’s behaviour and promised to deal with the matter personally.

“The parent is said to have taken the child from the school for two weeks, taken home, where he was subjected to a series of spanking by this parent.

“He was spanked so much that he threatened to put the child on the next flight to Nigeria,” said a teacher in England.

When the boy returned to school two weeks later, he was well behaved and started scoring very high marks and my sources say that he passed with flying colours at high school.

Teachers and welfare officers at the school interrogated the child as to whether or not he had been spanked but they failed to come up with any conclusion as this parent had told the school that “No Nigerian child behaves like that. We Africans know how to deal with delinquent behaviour …”

He is now attending one of England’s leading universities studying aeronautics.

Yes antisocial, aberrant and offending children in most African communities are given a regular spanking to make them see the dividing line between right and wrong.

A Zimbabwean man was nearly locked up in England when he kicked his teenage daughter several times after he found her in bed with some man but was let free when the daughter pleaded with the police to leave him alone.

The boyfriend had reported the matter to the police as physical abuse. There are so many cultural and traditional clashes of cultures when it involves spanking because it is viewed as a normal way of raising a child especially in the African context.

But in any one individual case, it very well may be true that an adult who was submitted to recurrent episodes of spanking or corporal punishment as a child may just turn out just fine.

Or they perhaps could have definitely turned out just fine had they not been spanked. It is a debatable matter. I have heard of parents here in Zimbabwe that instructs school authorities to mete out this punishment on their children, especially those in boarding school.

However, some end up being more severely abused, with some developing long term difficulties.

Some grow up to use corporal punishment as a method to severely beat their wives and children or workmates when there is a dispute.

However, psychologists argue that a great deal of evidence show that spanking is ineffective, but is a risk factor for greater forms of physical abuse that can negatively impact the behavioural and cognitive development of children in a variety of ways.

The fact is that corporal punishment will forever remain a controversial issue.

There is general consensus that corporal punishment is effective in getting children to comply immediately while at the same time there is caution from child abuse researchers that corporal punishment by its nature can escalate into physical maltreatment.

The question is where does the parent or teacher stop, or call this is just enough punishment?

One child was hit by a teacher with a ruler on the head and suffered severe bleeding resulting in death.

A Zimbabwean headmistress was also charged with murder after a pupil she allegedly caned for indiscipline died shortly afterwards.

The headmistress allegedly called the boy to an empty classroom following reports of misbehaviour, a local daily reported.

The boy was caned in the buttocks and collapsed during the punishment, the report said. He was declared dead in hospital three hours later.

The incident came after the Teachers’ Unions had written to President Robert Mugabe asking him to reverse a ban on corporal punishment in schools.

The Progressive Teachers Union of Zimbabwe said it was receiving reports of increased bullying, truancy and indiscipline in schools.

Corporal punishment of children has been banned across much of Europe, Australia, South Africa and Canada in recent decades, but is still prevalent in Asia, Africa and the United States.

Corporal punishment was outlawed in British state schools in 1987 and South Africa banned it in 1996. Thirty-one US states and the District of Columbia have banned corporal punishment from use in state schools.

Simply put, corporal punishment is the use of physical pain in response to behaviour that has been deemed inappropriate. As with many behaviours, there is a spectrum of severity.

Anything from a light slap on the back of the hand to pulling your child’s ears or banging the head on the wall is technically corporal punishment.

One end of this spectrum is clearly accepted as physical abuse by rational people while much of the rest of it is not, which is a big part of what makes this such a sensitive subject.


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