Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Corporal punishment is the deliberate infliction of pain intended as correction or punishment. When used for the punishment of criminals or slaves, it is usually applied using an instrument such as a cane or a whip. Other examples include the 'cat-o-nine-tails', once used in America and by the British, and the Russian knout, consisting of leather thongs with pieces of metal inserted. Ancient Romans used a similar device, the scourge.
Corporal punishment differs from torture in that it is applied for disciplinary reasons and can therefore be limited, rather than to totally destroy the will of the victim. Severe and archaic forms of corporal punishment are, however, more or less indistinguishable from torture.
Corporal and capital punishment were long the main forms of punishment used by society. Roman society used a number of forms of corporal punishment including beating and mutilation. This continued throughout medieval Europe.
Since the 18th century corporal punishment has tended to be gradually replaced by fines and incarceration, as the emphasis of criminal punishment has shifted from retribution and spectacle to reformation and surveillance. Corporal punishment took longest to die out as a punishment for violation of prison rules, as a military field punishment, and in schools.
It is sometimes thought that the punishment should affect the part of the body that sinned. Extreme examples include the amputation of the hands of a thief, as permitted by Sharia law, or during the Middle Ages in Europe. Other examples include the punishment of adulterous women by the insertion of irritating substances, such as hot pepper, into their vagina. The song Les Radis by Georges Brassens tells of an adulterous woman being punished by the public insertion of a large radish into her rectum. A less extreme example is the American tradition of putting soap into a child's mouth for using inappropriate language (called "washing your mouth out with soap").
Examples of corporal punishment from the Enlightenment onwards have tended to emphasise the administration of a set amount of pain by measurable procedures.
Several societies retain widespread use of judicial corporal punishment. These include Singapore and Malaysia. The Singaporean practice of caning became much discussed in the U.S. in 1994 when American teenager Michael P. Fay was sentenced to such punishment for an offence of car vandalism. In Singapore, male violent offenders and rapists are typically sentenced to caning in addition to a prison term.
Corporal punishment is further an important part of Islam's traditional Sharia law. According to some interpretations of that legal system, women may also be subject to corporal punishment. The person carrying out the whipping must however in this case retain a copy of the Qur'an (the holy book of Islam) in his armpit, which significantly limits the range of motion and thus the impact of the blows.
There is pressure in some countries, including the UK, to have any form of corporal punishment of children made illegal and treated as child abuse, though the practice is accepted and embraced in many countries. There is resistance, particularly from conservatives and civil libertarians, against making illegal the corporal punishment of children by their parents or guardians. A number of countries allow corporal punishment as a sanction for use by schools, though the UK has banned ths practice. Sweden has banned the corporal punishment of children entirely.
Proponents of the corporal punishment of children, whilst accepting that excessive physical punishment amounts to child abuse, argue that corporal punishment, properly administered, can be the most effective form of discipline for unruly children. Polls consistently show that the overwhelming majority of Americans believe that corporal punishment is sometimes necessary. There is also the argument that without recourse to the short, sharp smack parents may use forms of emotional violence that are actually more abusive. Opponents, whose voices are becoming increasingly influential, argue that any form of violence is abusive. The social science research shows that moderate corporal punishment is safe and effective, but some argue that it may be difficult for parents and other authorities to find appropriate limits.
- Domestic violence
- Emotional abuse
- Paddle (spanking)
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