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Last update: Jan 2012

World Fit For Children Goal
Protect children from all forms of abuse, neglect, exploitation and violence

The challenge and progress

Child discipline is an integral part of child rearing that teaches children self-control and acceptable behaviour. There is considerable debate, however, regarding the most appropriate methods of child discipline and the use of violent physical and psychological disciplinary practices. Relatively little is known about how parents discipline their children, particularly in low- and middle-income countries. Sound and reliable data are necessary to describe the nature and extent of violent disciplinary practices, identify social and demographic factors that may contribute to their use and develop effective strategies to promote positive parenting and prevent violence against children (UNICEF, 2010).

 

Violent discipline is defined as actions taken by a parent or caregiver that are intended to cause a child physical pain or emotional distress as a way to correct misbehaviour and act as a deterrent. It can take two forms: physical (or corporal) punishment and psychological aggression.


Physical (or corporal) punishment comprises actions intended to cause the child physical pain or discomfort but not injuries. It includes shaking the child, hitting or slapping him/her on the hand/arm/leg, hitting him/her on the bottom or elsewhere on the body with a hard object, spanking or hitting him/her on the bottom with a bare hand, hitting or slapping him/her on the face, head or ears, and beating him/her hard or repeatedly. Psychological aggression includes shouting, yelling and screaming at the child and addressing him/her with offensive names (such as ‘dumb’ or ‘lazy’).


A report published by UNICEF in 2010 analysed findings on child discipline from 35 Multiple Indicator Cluster Surveys (MICS) and Demographic and Health Surveys (DHS) surveys conducted in low- and middle-income countries in 2005 and 2006. This report represents one of the few available resources on the prevalence and nature of child discipline across regions and countries. Access to the full report is available under Resources.

 

High proportions of children aged 2–14 years experience violent discipline
Percentage of children aged 2-14 who experienced any violent discipline (physical punishment and/or psychological aggression) in the past month, by country, 2005–2006

Source: UNICEF, Child Disciplinary Practices at Home: Evidence from a range of low- and middle-income countries, 2010.

 

Psychological aggression is more common than physical punishment in most of the countries with available data
Percentage of children aged 2-14 who experienced psychological aggression and percentage of children aged 2–14 who experienced physical punishment in the past month, by country, 2005–2006

Source: UNICEF, Child Disciplinary Practices at Home: Evidence from a range of low- and middle-income countries, 2010.

 

In half of the countries surveyed, there is no difference in the prevalence of violent discipline between boys and girls. In countries where differences exist, boys are more likely to be subjected to violent discipline
Percentage of children aged 2–14 who experienced any violent discipline (physical punishment and/or psychological aggression) in the past month, by sex of the child,
in the 16 countries where there was a statistically significant difference, 2005–2006

Note: This analysis included 33 countries.
***p=.001 (statistically significant at the 0.1% level); **p=.01 (statistically significant at the 1% level); *p=.05 (statistically significant at the 5% level).
Source: UNICEF, Child Disciplinary Practices at Home: Evidence from a range of low- and middle-income countries, 2010.

 

Wealth reduces the likelihood of violent discipline, but only in less than half of the countries
Percentage of children aged 2–14 who experienced any violent discipline (physical punishment and/or psychological aggression) in the past month, by family wealth, in the 13 countries where there was a statistically significant difference, 2005–2006

Note: This analysis included 30 countries that had a minimum of 25 children in each variable category (wealthiest 40% and poorest 60%).
***p=.001 (statistically significant at the 0.1% level); **p=.01 (statistically significant at the 1% level); *p=.05 (statistically significant at the 5% level).
Source: UNICEF, Child Disciplinary Practices at Home: Evidence from a range of low- and middle-income countries, 2010.

 

Large proportions of children are subjected to physical punishment, even if their mothers/primary caregivers do not think it is necessary
Percentage of mothers/primary caregivers who do not think that physical punishment is necessary and percentage of children 2–14 years old who experience physical punishment, even though their mothers/primary caregivers do not think that physical punishment is necessary, in selected countries with available data, 2005–2006

Source: UNICEF global databases 2011, from DHS, MICS and other national surveys, 2005–2006.

 

Reference

UNICEF, Child Disciplinary Practices at Home: Evidence from a range of low- and middle-income countries, UNICEF, New York, 2010.