Protecting Our Kids: Domestic Violence, Corporal Punishment, and Risk

Protecting healthy child development is a goal of societies all over the world, identified and enshrined in international documents such as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. But experiencing either domestic violence in the household or physical violence in the form of corporal punishment can put children at greater risk of mental health issues and physical injuries, immediately and in adulthood.

A new study published this year digs into the relationship between domestic violence and corporal punishment around the world – specifically, how parental attitudes toward one might influence attitudes toward the other. The study aims to learn if living in a house that is permissive of domestic violence affects children’s likelihood of experiencing physical or psychological violence growing up. It finds a significant relationship between permissive cultural attitudes concerning domestic violence and corporal punishment and the chance that children will be exposed to violence or victims of violence.

Even as rates of domestic violence in the United States have significantly declined in the past decade, the effects of this violence remain pronounced, nationally and abroad. Unfortunately, too many children are exposed to external stressors that can impair child development. Domestic violence, generally defined as physical aggression and abuse of one spouse by the other and corporal punishment as a disciplinary tactic, are two such stress factors. The prevalence of these two trends varies internationally, but both remain troublingly common and pose significant risk for children.

A team of researchers headed by the Duke Center for Child and Family Policy’s Jennifer Lansford examined attitudes toward domestic violence and corporal punishment in 25 countries, primarily in sub-Saharan Africa, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia. Looking at nearly 86,000 households, the researchers asked the primary caregivers of children between two and fourteen years old whether they felt domestic violence and/or corporal punishment was justified in the household and whether the children in that household had themselves been victims of violence or aggression – verbal or physical – within the last month.

The results across countries were wide-ranging. The average rate of approval for domestic violence was 47 percent across all countries. Bosnia-Herzegovina reported the lowest rate of approval for domestic violence at seven percent; Sierra Leone was highest at 86 percent.

On average, 23 percent of caregivers felt corporal punishment was necessary for childrearing, a number that is consistent with attitudes in certain parts of the United States. Across the survey’s 25 countries, there was consistently more support for domestic violence than corporal punishment, except in the Caribbean and Central American countries, where support was equal or greater in favor of corporal punishment.

In 16 of the 25 countries, the researchers uncovered a significant relationship between women’s attitudes toward domestic violence and their attitude towards physically punishing their children: those who approved of husbands hitting their wives were four times as likely to endorse hitting their own children.

In nine of the 25 countries, children in families in which the caregivers endorsed both domestic violence and corporal punishment were as much as eight times more likely to have experienced violence or aggression in the past month. This evidence supports the idea that attitudes toward domestic violence and corporal punishment are linked and that pro-violence attitudes are associated with an elevated risk of violence actually being carried out toward children.

These findings directly impact work to curb rates of domestic violence and corporal punishment. The study’s findings are a strong indication that whether or not domestic violence and corporal punishment occur in a given household is highly informed by social norms. The study speculates that there might be some social conformity affecting behavior, because individual attitudes are weakly associated whenever social preferences are stronger. Simply put, parents will gravitate to the prevailing attitudes toward violence in that society.

The findings could also have positive implications for policymakers since they show that working to fight domestic violence might result in a positive spillover effect in the form of decreased rates of violence toward children. Policymakers worldwide can advance the goal of protecting children and healthy child development by focusing intervention strategies on parental attitudes toward domestic violence and corporal punishment.

Feature photo: cc/(European Parliament)'
Matt Repka
Matt Repka is a staff writer for the Chicago Policy Review and is an MPP student at the Harris School of Public Policy. He is interested in education and urban policy. He has also been published in The Tufts Daily.

One Response to “Protecting Our Kids: Domestic Violence, Corporal Punishment, and Risk

    Alexander Montgomery
    ago3 years

    What kind of intervention strategies will the policymakers do to stop this kind of violence? I think can organize a parenting seminar for parents and parents to be.