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Should spanking be a criminal offense in Canada? The Canadian Medical Association thinks so

Jordana Divon
Shine On
September 6, 2012

How many of you were spanked as a child?

Chances are a great number of children born before the 80s experienced at least one well-timed thwap on the behind after doing something particularly naughty. And it's likely that few tots of the 50s and 60s managed to escape without some form of corporal punishment, whether it came from an angry teacher or a frustrated caregiver.

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Though spanking has become a topic of charged debate in the decades since, it is still classified as "allowable corrective punishment" in Section 43 of the Canadian Criminal Code. This means parents can threaten a good spanking without facing legal repercussions.

But that could change if the Canadian Medical Association Journal gets its way.

As the Globe and Mail reports, the prestigious publication is urging Canada to ban the practice outright and even change the legislation to make it illegal for parents to lay a swift hand on their children.

"I'm not sure the message has got out that regular physical punishment isn't a good way to get kids to behave properly and can lead to later problems," CMAJ editor-in-chief John Fletcher explains. "It is time for Canada to remove this anachronistic excuse for poor parenting from the statute book."

Fletcher's assertions are supported by an increasing pile of scientific research.

A 2010 study in Pediatrics magazine asserts that frequently spanked children are more likely to act out aggressively in the future.

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Another study, released this year through the University of Manitoba and the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario, makes the even bolder claim that children who are spanked prove likelier to suffer from a host of mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol abuse and "general psychological maladjustment."

"We're not talking about just a tap on the bum," study author Tracie Afifi of the University of Manitoba writes in a statement. "We were looking at people who used physical punishment as a regular means to discipline their children."

"It definitely points to the direction that physical punishment should not be used on children of any age," she adds.

Those against spanking also argue that non-physical tactics like "time outs" or verbal corrections are just as effective a means of discipline.

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Pro-spanking proponents argue that there's a marked difference between a mild spank and consistent and prolonged physical abuse, and that in certain circumstances a tap on the tush is far more effective than a verbal reprimand.

Another question that emerges is whether there's a link between the misbehavior that leads to a spanking in the first place, and the symptoms of aggression and mental illness that those children exhibit as they get older.

But it appears that the overwhelming majority of parenting advice — from psychologists to scientists — has swayed against the spanking tide, with many calling for it to be eradicated from the disciplinary repertoire.

One thing that's certain: We may not be able to recall a specific incident where mom or dad yelled at us, but everyone remembers a time they got spanked.

What do you think? Is a good old-fashioned spanking sometimes necessary to quell a child's misbehavior, or should parents be outlawed from laying a hand on their children?

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