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What Is Caning?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Caning is a corporal punishment in which someone is beaten with a cane, typically one made from rattan. The term is also used to refer to the practice of weaving rushes and other materials together for make seats and backs for chairs and other furniture. Both terms reference “cane” in the sense of a long reed or tube. At one time, caning was a widespread and broadly accepted form of punishment. Today, it is used in only a handful of locations worldwide, and most nations which use it limit the situations in which it can be employed as punishment.

The blows with the cane are referred to as strokes or cuts. Depending on the material the cane is made from, the width, and the way it is handled, caning can leave someone with injuries ranging from redness and mild bruising to permanent scars. A directive as to the number of strokes is usually given before beginning the punishment.

Caning is a corporal punishment where someone is beaten with a cane.
Caning is a corporal punishment where someone is beaten with a cane.

Traditionally, caning is done on the buttocks or the hands. The person being caned may be directed to uncover the buttocks, or to leave them covered. In some areas, a punishment known as foot whipping is used, in which the soles of the feet are beaten with a cane. This punishment can be extremely painful, and may leave the person being disciplined unable to walk for several days.

Caning is typically administered to the hand or buttocks, resulting in a variety of injuries from redness and bruising to permanent scars.
Caning is typically administered to the hand or buttocks, resulting in a variety of injuries from redness and bruising to permanent scars.

Many people associate caning with punishments in school, especially in Britain, where the cane was once applied regularly, and a number of British novels and biographies have referenced the use of the cane. Corporal punishment in schools in most regions of the world is frowned upon today. However, judicial caning, in which the cane is used to punish people for infractions of the law, persists, and some militaries also utilize the cane in punishments. Tanzania, Brunei, Malaysia, Singapore, and Nigeria all prescribe it for certain crimes.

Singapore uses caning for some crimes.
Singapore uses caning for some crimes.

Some people have argued that caning is a form of torture, and it should be outlawed. In some cases where foreign nations have been caned for legal infractions, a great deal of controversy erupted as people protested the punishment as unfair. Disagreements over acceptable punishments for crimes occasionally flare up when foreign nations are involved in crimes which are heavily penalized. While one is the guest of another nation, it is usually necessary to submit to their laws, although an embassy may intervene if they feel that a citizen has not received due process, or if the punishment seems inhumane or lacking in compassion.

Caning Punishment

Caning is a type of punishment in which prisoners or suspected criminals are beaten with canes. The canes can range in materials but are usually made from rattan. Caning was once an acceptable form of corporal punishment all over the world. Today, it only still exists as a standard form in a few countries where it is stringently regulated.

Caning does not exist in isolation; it is a punishment with additional sentencing. When administered, the penalty is exacted in full view of an audience. Those waiting in line to be caned are also present, in addition to the Superintendent of Prisons and a medical officer.

When the caning commences, the prisoner is brought out into the courtyard area, where everyone can observe the punishment. In many cases, the person is asked to strip naked, but sometimes removing the pants past the buttocks will suffice. The cane strokes are administered at 30-second intervals on the buttocks, though occasionally foot caning is also administered.

Caning Material

Most materials used specifically for caning are made from rattan. Rattan is a vine-like plant species that is also explicitly used for weaving and furniture making. To do so, the first layer must be stripped away to reach the pliable vine.

In some places, even the size of the cane is regulated. It must be measured at 120 cm long and 13 mm thick in Singapore. The outer layer must be stripped away, and it is often soaked in warm water to ensure that it is pliable and elastic. Some say that the vine is soaked in saltwater brine to increase the pain response, but officials have denied that claim; they confirm that the canes are regularly coated in antiseptic to prevent infection. In other places, the qualifications are just as rigid.

Many people confuse bamboo and rattan. Though the two plants may appear similar, they are very different. Rattan is a vine. Bamboo is a type of tree. Rattan has a solid middle core, whereas bamboo is mainly hollow. Both plants, however, have horizontal notching on their skin. Bamboo is rumored to be used in other types of torture but not caning.

Singapore Caning Aftermath

Singapore caning incident refers to a 1994 criminal case with an American named Michael Fay, who was sentenced to caning in Singapore, and the American government tried to intervene. The aftermath caused an international outcry over the torturous nature of caning and called for the end of the practice worldwide.

Michael Fay

The caning was only newsworthy because the student involved in the caning was American. Michael Fay was a United States-born citizen living with his mother and stepfather in Singapore. He chose to spend time with a debatable group of friends who stole road signs and vandalized cars. Once the criminal operation was found out, the government questioned the students, and many were sentenced to minimal jail terms with a certain number of lashes by caning in 1994. Fay pleaded guilty and was sentenced to four months jail time and six lashes.


The United States government attempted to intervene, as did the international press, and Singapore was largely unmoved by the efforts. Ultimately, they chose to uphold their laws and maintain caning as an acceptable punishment for the crimes. The only compromise the Singapore officials were willing to make was to lessen the number of lashes for Fay. In the end, he received four instead of six to maintain international relations.


For the most part, the 1994 Michael Fay caning was a media spectacle. However, it did highlight some of the inhumane aspects of corporal punishment. The psychological detriment suffered from caning is as damaging as the physical effects. More legal restrictions and caning censures were adopted due to the Fay case because an international spotlight was on caning as an inhumane practice.


While some countries still cane, including Singapore, they now have stringent regulations detailing when caning can and can’t be used and with what force. Caning now is often reserved for more harsh penalties, and jail time is increased for more marginal crime sentencing. Updates in caning practices include alleged humanitarian exemptions with no women, men over 50, or anyone sentenced to death can be caned. Additionally, no more than 24 cane strokes can be administered in a single punishment. Probably criminal causes for caning include:

  • Sexual abuse, rape, and molestation
  • Robbery and gang robbery
  • Murder and grievous hurt
  • Kidnapping and hostage-taking
  • Extortion and laundering
  • Unlawful possession of weapons
  • Drug abuse and trafficking

Frequently Asked Questions

What is caning?

Caning is an ancient form of corporal punishment, typically involving the use of a flexible rod or stick, usually made of rattan, to strike the buttocks or the palms of the hands. It is still practiced in certain countries, such as Singapore, Malaysia, and Brunei, as a form of judicial punishment for serious offenses. In some schools in Southeast Asia, caning is used as a form of discipline, although it is not as commonplace as it once was.

How is caning administered?

Typically, a trained individual—such as a teacher or court official—will administer the caning. The person administering the caning will typically hold the cane in their dominant hand and then use the other hand to support the cane and make sure the stroke is delivered with the correct angle and force. The person being caned is usually required to bend over a table, chair, or other object to present their buttocks for the punishment.

What are the physical effects of caning?

The physical effects of caning depend on the intensity of the punishment. Generally, caning can cause bruising, welts, and other skin injuries. It can also be psychologically damaging, as it is often used as a form of humiliation and intimidation. In some cases, the physical injuries can be long-lasting and even lead to permanent damage.

Is caning considered a form of torture?

Caning is not generally considered a form of torture under international law. However, it may be considered a form of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment if it is used in a manner that is disproportional to the offense or if it is used as a form of intimidation or humiliation.

Is caning still used in schools?

Caning is still used in some schools in Southeast Asia as a form of discipline, but it is not as prevalent as it once was. More contemporary forms of discipline, like suspension or expulsion, have taken its place in many nations. The use of caning in schools is also thought to be less effective than other forms of discipline, as it does not address the root cause of the student's misbehavior.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a MyLawQuestions researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Learn more...

Discussion Comments


As a boy of twelve some fifty years ago, I had my bare buttocks caned for indecency and rudeness.

The caning was administered by my guardian (I called her "Auntie" but she was not actually a relative). It was done with a high degree of ritual. Auntie dressed me down at length for my misbehaviour before announcing that I was to receive twelve of the very best. She ordered me to remove my trousers and underpants, which I did very slowly and reluctantly. I was then made to bend over a covered stool for the beating, which was delivered using a crook handled cane of the kind seen in schools at the time.

"Auntie" took great delight at swishing and flexing the cane in front of me, informing me that it would hurt a great deal and that I would not be able to sit down properly for days, two statements that turned out to be absolutely true!

The first stroke bit deep into my naked bottom, drawing an agonized gasp. Each subsequent impact raised the level of sting and throb to new highs. I only received eight strokes as, at that point, I could no longer control my bowels and defecated massively on the living room floor, much to "Auntie's" disgust. A withering invective followed, with much made of my bodily weakness and ineffectual character.

Despite the humiliation and degradation associated with the incident, I feel to this day that the caning had a net benefit for me. I only needed to be caned once - I swore never to receive it again and stuck to rigid patterns of behavior and respect thereafter. Every so often, if I found myself considering insulting, cynical or selfish comments or actions, the memories of that punishment would return -- the fear, the agony, the dreadfully embarrassing soiling that occurred and Auntie's raging insults -- and I would return to the path of self control that I had set.


People from America and other countries who travel to these countries which utilize these kinds of punishments and blatantly disregard their laws with defiant arrogance bring it upon themselves. They deserve it.

We here in America are not the beacons of light for the rest of the world, which we are fed into believing from grammar school on up. We start wars for profit with blatant disregard for life. We die and get maimed for the rich. Period. I love of America for what she could be, not what she is.


By not caning your kids, they grow up to be rude persons without normal behavior - ending up with the wrong type of friends. Kids needs very strict physical discipline, to give them a good start in life. That does not mean that you should cane them half-dead, but so that they feel it really good - to make them learn something. It does not hurt anybody.


I think caning is unfair. That's all.

I agree with Sara007. Why use a cane? It's just stupid, and meaningless. The kid won't even learn anything. Parents who use canes are the problem. They are the ones who turn the kids violent.


@MrSmirnov - I am shocked that you condone caning of children! Children should not be abused, and I don't think there is anytime when it is right to hit a child. There are better ways to punish children for wrongdoings.

A lot of parents have managed to raise perfectly polite children by talking with them and setting guidelines for their behavior. There is not need to resort to barbaric violence.

Does anyone believe that caning is a good way to teach people a lesson? What does hitting really show others?

I think that caning is just a form of bullying that shouldn't be tolerated, especially not in schools.


It's really too bad that caning has been outlawed as a form of corporal punishment in schools. While I do think there should be regulations as to how much is too much when it comes to hitting kids, a little fear of the system can prevent a whole lot of problems later on.

When I was younger my grandma would take a wooden spoon to the behind of any kids that got too far out of line, and you know what, we learned right from wrong! We didn't dare defy my grandma either because she was an adult and she always treated us fairly. Never once were we hit for something that didn't deserve. Kids aren't stupid and I think they know when they have earned a punishment.


Do any schools still do this regularly? I always thought it had kind of gone the way of paddling in schools. I mean, I know a few schools still have corporal punishment, but surely it doesn't happen all that often?


@nextcorrea - Lots of interesting points. Here in America we like to think that we are the gold standard of humane treatment of prisoners. We proudly note that we do not practice corporal punishment unlike more "savage" nations. But I think in lots of indirect ways prisoners are punished physically when they enter the prison system.

We have all heard about extreme overcrowding. This often means that prisoners have to live in deplorable conditions, struggle for medical care, live under increased risk of violence and face punishment from increasingly desperate guards. I know that prison is supposed to be hard, but there is a line when it borders on torture.

We also have to ask ourselves which is the worse punishment. To have to endure a brief moment of physical violence or to be flung into a hopeless bureaucracy often for relatively minor crimes. I will not say that we are worse than Singapore or other countries that practice corporal punishment but I think we are far from as good as we think.


Most people in America associate caning with the strange story from about 15 years ago of the American in Singapore. He was arrested for either stealing cars or graffiti, one of the two. He was sentenced to be caned as part of his punishment.

The story was covered pretty heavily here in the states, probably owing to the exotic notion of corporal punishment, particularly by a big piece of cane. The story died out pretty quickly and I don't remember what happened to the guy after he was punished.

I remember that far from being a national outcry about the treatment of one of its citizens, most people seemed to think that the guy was kind of a dofus who got what he deserved. If he broke obvious laws in another country he had to suffer the punishment, no matter how draconian it was. Kind of a strange reaction when you begin to think about it.

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    • Caning is a corporal punishment where someone is beaten with a cane.
      By: Swapan
      Caning is a corporal punishment where someone is beaten with a cane.
    • Caning is typically administered to the hand or buttocks, resulting in a variety of injuries from redness and bruising to permanent scars.
      By: Vivian Seefeld
      Caning is typically administered to the hand or buttocks, resulting in a variety of injuries from redness and bruising to permanent scars.
    • Singapore uses caning for some crimes.
      By: syphrix
      Singapore uses caning for some crimes.