The Global Adoption of National Policies Protecting Children from Violent Discipline in Schools and Homes, 1950–2011

Date01 March 2018
AuthorElizabeth Heger Boyle,Hollie Nyseth Brehm
Publication Date01 March 2018
The Global Adoption of National Policies Protecting
Children from Violent Discipline in Schools and
Homes, 1950–2011
Hollie Nyseth Brehm Elizabeth Heger Boyle
With a focus on the relationship between women’s and children’s rights and
theories of globalization, we conduct an event history analysis of more than
150 countries between 1950 and 2011 to assess the factors associated with pol-
icies banning corporal punishment in schools and homes. Our research
reveals that formal condemnation of corporal punishment in schools is
becoming a global norm; policies banning corporal punishment in the home,
in contrast, are being adopted more slowly. We f‌ind that the percentage of
women in parliament is associated with the adoption of anti-corporal punish-
ment policies in both schools and homes, suggesting a nexus between wom-
en’s and children’s issues. Countries with more ethnic diversity are slower to
adopt home policies, however. We propose that minority groups in these
countries may be resistant to laws because of the risk of selective or prejudicial
enforcement. In terms of globalization, more aid is associated with both school
and home policies, and countries that have ratif‌ied the Convention on the
Rights of the Child are more likely to adopt home policies. Surprisingly, inter-
national nongovernmental organizations are not signif‌icantly associated with
either type of policy adoption.
In 2015, an enraged teacher at the Florence Christian Academy
Primary School near Hluti, Swaziland, used a stick “big enough
to kill a snake” to apply hundreds of lashes to a 12-year-old girl
(Mkhonta 2015). The teacher viewed this beating as punishment
for “spreading malicious gossip” about him. The Swazi Observer
reported the child “screamed and asked for forgiveness, but this
seemed to infuriate the teacher more.” The extent of the girl’s
injuries shocked medical personnel.
This brief story provides a powerful reminder that corporal
punishment is still used to abuse children in the contemporary
world. At the same time, this story also reveals a marked shift in
perceptions of corporal punishment. It suggests the practice is
now condemned by Swazi elites, which is clear from the tone
adopted by the local journalist who wrote the story, the response
of the medical personnel who treated the girl, and the presence
Please direct all correspondence to Hollie Nyseth Brehm, The Ohio State University,
238 TownshendHall, Columbus, OH 43210; email:
Law & Society Review, Volume 52, Number 1 (2018)
C2018 Law and Society Association. All rights reserved.
of local organizations like the Swaziland Action Group Against
Abuse. This condemnation is also ref‌lected at the global level,
with the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child
and organizations such as Save the Children using this and other
cases to pressure Swaziland into changing its laws regarding
corporal punishment.
Countries like Swaziland that do not legally prohibit beatings
in schools are increasingly changing their policies. While corporal
punishment was not a priority half a century ago, many countries
have since banned physical reprimands in schools, and some
have also banned such discipline in the home. Yet, no studies (to
our knowledge) have examined the factors associated with poli-
cies restricting violent discipline. Accordingly, in this study, we
draw upon event history analyses of more than 150 countries
between 1950 and 2011 to assess the dynamics of adopting cor-
poral punishment bans in homes and schools, respectively.
We f‌ind that women and children’s interests appear to be
linked, as the percentage of women in parliament is positively
associated with bans on corporal punishment in schools and in
the home. We also f‌ind that public (i.e., school) policies tend to
precede home policies, just as women’s rights policies addressed
the public sphere (e.g., voting, employment rights) before the
private sphere (e.g., domestic violence). Yet, countries with
greater ethnic fractionalization have lower odds of adopting poli-
cies that regulate children’s rights in the home. One possible
explanation for this is that ethnolinguistic minorities may block
such policies because states tend to under-protect and over-police
minority communities (compare Crenshaw 2012).
Our analysis of the adoption of policies banning violent disci-
pline in the home and in schools provides insights on global pro-
cesses of policy diffusion as well. We f‌ind that the ratif‌ication of
the 1989 United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child
(CRC) is associated with the adoption of policies banning corporal
punishment in the home but not in schools. We also f‌ind that
receipt of international aid is associated with the adoption of vio-
lent discipline bans in both schools and homes. Links to interna-
tional nongovernmental organizations (INGOs) are not associated
with either form of policy adoption, however, which is surprising
given earlier studies of diffusion in the world polity literature.
Feminism, Women, and Children
Before 1970, most international human rights organizations
focused on state-instigated human rights abuses, such as torture.
Abuses that occurred in the home were generally viewed as
Nyseth Brehm & Boyle 207

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