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Remember What His Frightened Heart Looks Like: An International Comparison of the Legal and Social Attitudes Towards Violent Punishment in the Home

Remember What His Frightened Heart Looks Like: An International Comparison of the Legal and Social Attitudes Towards Violent Punishment in the Home

Sasha Gainen-Truslow

Janusz Korczak, a Polish-Jewish turn-of-the-century children’s rights advocate and educator, gave a famous lecture on violent punishment:


Korczak entered with a small boy clutching his hand. Without a word he took the boy’s shirt off, placed him behind a fluoroscope and turned off the overhead light. Everyone could now see the boy’s heart beating rapidly on the screen. “Don’t ever forget this sight,” Korczak told his audience. “Before you raise a hand to a child, before you administer any kind of punishment, remember what his frightened heart looks like.”[1]

Approximately 6 in 10 children worldwide are subjected to violent punishment on a regular basis.[2] Violent punishment has many names: corporal punishment, spanking, beating, and whupping.[3] No matter the name, it is an ineffective disciplinary practice that has significant negative consequences.[4] In the short-term, children will stop the problematic behavior, but in the long-term, children become more violent later in life—leading to more cases of generalized violence, antisocial behavior, and mental health problems.[5] Despite these findings, violent punishment remains widespread throughout the world.[6]

International organizations such as The United Nations Children’s Fund (“UNICEF”) and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (“UNCRC”) strongly condemn the practice, and regularly conduct reports on countries whose cultural norms support the practice.[7] These intergovernmental bodies are helpful, but they have been unsuccessful instruments for change.[8] This Note proposes that there are two possible methods to start ending all violent punishment: (1) enact domestic laws that use positive language in the text of a law affirming children’s rights, and (2) increase social awareness of the negative effects of violent punishment through media campaigns and lobbying.

Part I of this Note will give a historical overview of violent punishment laws, both domestically and internationally. It will also provide statistics concerning trends and the effect violent punishment has on children. Part II of this Note will compare violent punishment laws against children between different countries, specifically focusing on the home setting. This Note categorizes countries into the following categories: (1) strict laws against violent punishment and socially against violent punishment; (2) strict laws and socially neutral/in favor; and (3) minimal/no laws and socially neutral/in favor. Finally, Part III of this note will give recommendations both generally and categorically.

[1] Michael D.A. Freeman, Upholding the Dignity and Best Interests of Children: International Law and the Corporal Punishment of Children, 73(2) Law & Contemp. Probs. 211, 213 (2010).

[2] Violent Discipline, UNICEF, (last updated June 2016).

[3] Elizabeth T. Gershoff & Susan H. Bitensky, The Case Against Corporal Punishment of Children, 13 Psychol. Pub. Pol’y & L. 231, 231 (2007).

[4] Is Corporal Punishment an Effective Means of Discipline?, Am. Psychol. Ass’n (June 26, 2002),

[5] See id. (conducting a meta-analysis using 62 years of collected data, which found that violent punishment was associated with mental health issues, aggression, criminal or antisocial behavior, and abuse of own children or spouse).

[6] See generally Global Init. to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, (last visited Nov. 11, 2017) (showing a map of violent punishment laws throughout the world).

[7] Comm. on the Rights of the Child, General Comment on The Right of The Child to Protection from Corporal Punishment and Other Cruel or Degrading Forms of Punishment, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/GC/8, at ¶ 1 (Mar. 2, 2007); Child Discipline, UNICEF (2007),

[8] All eligible States have signed the U.N. Convention on the Rights of the Child, which outlaws violent punishment, but harsh punishment is still widespread throughout the world. Convention on the Rights of the Child art. 19, Nov. 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3.


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