The Canadian Medical Association says it's time to change the Criminal Code's 120-year old so-called spanking law. Currently, the law gives parents and teachers the right to spank or hit children as a means of discipline.
In a strongly worded editorial in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, Editor-in-Chief Dr. John Fletcher says while he's not suggesting that spanking be made a crime, section 43 of the Criminal Code sends the wrong message, when it states “A parent is justified in using force by way of correction … if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances."
In 2004, the Supreme Court of Canada upheld the Criminal Code provision by a 6-3 margin. The court ruled that the law doesn't constitute cruel and unusual punishment and doesn't infringe upon a child's right to "security of the person" under the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
Fletcher says, "Clearly, hitting anyone in anger or when losing an argument is bad behaviour. To do this to children sets a bad example and may only teach them that violence is a means to getting their own way."
He admits that at one time it was an acceptable means of punishment, "roughly 90% of my parents’ generation, including 70% of family doctors and 60% of pediatricians, thought spanking acceptable in some circumstances." But he asks, is it effective?
Fletcher cites a study that looked at research done over the last 20 years, "suggesting that the physical punishment of children is associated with increased levels of child aggression and is no better at eliciting compliance than other methods. Furthermore, physical punishment during childhood is associated with behavioural problems in adult life, including depression, unhappiness, anxiety, feelings of hopelessness, use of drugs and alcohol, and general psychological maladjustment."
Digital Journal reported on a study by American and Canadian researchers this summer which found a link between harsh physical punishment, that included pushing, grabbing, shoving, slapping or hitting, to mental illness later in life. And the study suggested that up to seven per cent of mental disorders are linked to physical punishment in childhood.
But with about half of all parents still believing it is acceptable, according to the CMA, Fletcher says the debate continues.
Fletcher suggests more programs to teach positive parenting offered at the same time as prenatal classes and when children enter school. But Fletcher adds section 43, "is a constant excuse for parents to cling to an ineffective method of child discipline when better approaches are available. It is time for Canada to remove this anachronistic excuse for poor parenting from the statute book."
Experts recommend parents consider non-physical forms of discipline like timeouts and better communication with children about the rules and what is expected of them. The experts also say parents need to control their own anger and impatience during what may feel like a 'crisis moment'.
The National Post reports that Canada and the USA are among a small group of the world’s only developed countries that still allows corporal punishment. And according to an official from Justice Minister Rob Nicholson's office, that is not likely to change. Julie Di Mambro says,“Parents are in the best position to raise their children.” “We believe it is up to them, not the government, to decide what is best for their children so long as it is within reason.”