Spanking and other forms of corporal punishment are still common worldwide, even though 24 countries have adopted bans on physical punishment since 1979, according to recent studies.
The researchers noted that spanking has declined, but corporal punishment is still used to discipline nearly 80% of preschool children.
"The findings are stark. Harsh treatment of children was epidemic in all communities. Our data support the conclusions that maltreatment occurs in all nations," Dr Desmond Runyan, a professor of social medicine at the University of North Carolina (UNC), said in a university news release.
He was lead author of a study that conducted surveys in Brazil, Chile, Egypt, India, the Philippines and the United States, and found that rates of corporal punishment were "dramatically higher" in all communities "than published rates of official physical abuse in any country."
The study was released online in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the journal Paediatrics.
Runyan and colleagues also found that:
Corporal punishment was more widely used by mothers with fewer years of education.
Rates of corporal punishment vary widely among communities within the same country.
Harsh punishment by parents isn't less common in countries other than the US, and actually may be more common, especially in low- and middle-income countries.
Another study, led by Dr Adam J. Zolotor, an assistant professor of family medicine at UNC School of Medicine, found that 18% fewer children were slapped or spanked by caregivers in 2002 compared to 1975. However, 79% of preschoolers were still spanked in 2002, and nearly half of children aged eight and nine were hit with an object such as a paddle or switch.
The findings were released online in advance of publication in an upcoming print issue of the journal Child Abuse Review.
"This study shows that the US, unlike most other high-income countries, has had little change in the use of corporal punishment as commonplace," Zolotor said in the UNC news release.
"Given the weight of evidence that spanking does more harm than good, it is important that parents understand the full range of options for helping to teach their children. A bit of good news is that the decline in the use of harsher forms of punishment is somewhat more impressive." - (August 2010)
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