Corporal punishment is the purposeful infliction of pain as punishment for wrongdoing. The term often specifically refers to hitting the person receiving punishment repeatedly with an instrument, such as a cane or a ruler, though it also applies more generally to any kind of pain infliction as a punishment. It is sometimes used by parents against their children, by teachers and school administrators against students who misbehave, and in many parts of the world, by the judicial system as an additional deterrent to criminals. Despite the frequency with which this method of punishment is used, it remains a controversial topic, with detractors claiming that causing pain is not an effective way to rehabilitate wrongdoers.
The history of the use of corporal punishment is long and varied. It was widely used by the Greeks and Romans of the classical era to discipline soldiers. During the Middle Ages, the body was seen as sinful and unclean by the church, and many sought to punish themselves through self-flagellation. Up until the 19th century, public beatings of criminals were considered a grand spectacle, and floggings of disobedient schoolboys were commonplace. Around the latter part of the 19th century, use of physical punishment began to decline, although it is still used in modern times in a number of situations.
When a child is spanked by his or her parents, it is referred to as domestic or parental corporal punishment. Spanking one's own child is sometimes viewed as a form of abuse and is illegal in many countries, but it remains legal in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. Some of the countries where spanking is still legal place restrictions on how the punishment can be implemented. For example, in Canada, parents may not strike a child under the age of two or over the age of 12.
In a school setting, this type of punishment is often administered via a spanking or by smacking the misbehaving student's hand or wrist. Most countries have outlawed the practice of inflicting pain to modify child behavior in the classroom. Proponents of this punishment method claim that schools waste time, space, and resources on placing students in detention or suspension. Opponents claim that these punishments achieve the opposite of what they set out to do, leading to further bad behavior.
Judicial corporal punishment is still in effect in many places worldwide, and usually involves whipping, caning, or flogging. For example, many Islamic countries employ whippings for various offenses. Canings are common in countries like Singapore for offenses such as theft and vandalism. Punishments of this kind that are dictated by law should not be confused with capital punishment, which involves the implementation of the death penalty.