International Variations in Harsh Child Discipline

The World Health Organization (WHO) has concluded that child abuse is a serious problem throughout the world, yet comprehensive comparative information on child abuse is lacking.

Researchers conducted in-person and telephone interviews with 14,239 mothers from Brazil, Chile, Egypt, India, the Philippines and the United States between 1998 and 2004. The survey instrument was a modified version of the Parent-Child Conflict Tactics Scale.

Key Findings:

  • The percentage of respondents reporting use of moderate physical punishment rates, including spanking and slapping, ranged between 55 and 89 percent across the countries surveyed.
  • Seventeen percent of respondents reported using harsh physical punishments, including beating with a clenched fist, shaking and kicking. When hitting with an object was included in this category, the percentage jumped to 39 percent. Harsh physical punishment is considered a proxy for child abuse.
  • Moderate to harsh verbal punishment was very common, with rates ranging from 70 percent to 90 percent.
  • Children under the age of 2 were most likely to receive harsh physical punishments (especially shaking) in the majority of the communities studied. The age group of seven to 11 year olds also received high rates of harsh verbal and physical punishment.

This research provides insight into child punishment tactics throughout the world. While rates ranged substantially between communities and countries, these findings suggest that harsh physical punishment of children is relatively common in all countries.