Physical violence Physical violence

Experience of corporal punishment

Author/s: Stefanie Rohrs
Date: March 2018

This indicator shows the proportion of secondary school adolescents in the 2012 National School Violence Study who reported being caned, spanked or hit by a teacher or principal as punishment for wrongdoing at school.


Data Source National School Violence Study (2012) conducted by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention, Cape Town. 
Analysis by Jenna-Lee Marco-Felton, Children's Institute, University of Cape Town.
Notes Adolescents at secondary school are defined here as those in grades 8 to 12. Some learners in this study are older than 17 years (and therefore are adults); this is a reflection of a delay in school progression for many young people.
Half (50%) of all children in the National School Violence Study in 2012 reported being subject to corporal punishment at school. Overall, little progress has been made in reducing corporal punishment in schools since this is similar to the prevalence of corporal punishment in schools measured in the 2008 National School Violence survey (48%).

However, comparisons between the 2008 and 2012 data suggest that some provinces have managed to reduce the use of corporal punishment by educators and principals.1 In Gauteng and the Northern Cape, for instance, the use of corporal punishment dropped considerably between 2008 and 2012: in Gauteng from 61% to 23% and in the Northern Cape from 56% to 35%. Yet in other provinces the use of corporal punishment increased between 2008 and 2012, most notably in KwaZulu-Natal which had the highest prevalence of corporal punishment in schools in 2012 (74%). The Western Cape had the lowest prevalence (22%). The study did not find significant differences in relation to experiences of corporal punishment between male and female learners, or across grades.

These studies on school violence by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention (2008 and 2012) are the only studies that provide national data on corporal punishment in schools. National data on corporal punishment in the home is also limited. A national study to examine corporal punishment in the home was conducted in 2005 with a sample of 925 parents.2 In this study 57% of parents reported smacking their child(ren) and 30% reported having done so in the past month. Community-based studies report even higher levels of corporal punishment in the home. For instance, a survey in the Eastern Cape found that 89% of young women and 94% of young men reported physical punishment by their caregivers before the age of 18 years.3

Until a recent judgment by the South Gauteng High Court, corporal punishment was not prohibited in the home – parents used to be able to raise the defence of ‘moderate and reasonable chastisement' if criminally charged. However, the 2017 ruling by the South Gauteng High Court abolished this legal defence and ruled that South African law should be aligned with the UN Convention of the Rights of the Child, which prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment and punishment of children as well as all forms of violence against children both in the home and in schools.
1 Burton P & Leoschut L (2012) School violence in South Africa: Results of the 2012 National School Violence Study. Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention: Cape Town.

2 Dawes A, De Sas Kropiwnicki Z, Kafaar Z & Richter L (2005) Corporal punishment of children: A South African national survey. Commissioned by Save the Children Sweden, July 2005.

3 Jewkes RK, Dunkle K, Nduna M, Jamaa PN, Purene A (2010) 'Associations between childhood adversity and depression, substance abuse and HIV & HSV2 incident infections in rural South African youth.' Child Abuse & Neglect, 34(11): 833–841.
This indicator is based on a single question, namely: "When you have done something wrong at school, does the teacher or principal cane, spank or hit you for what you have done?" The question was posed to secondary school learners as part of the 2012 National School Violence Survey (NSVS).

The NSVS was conducted by the Centre for Justice and Crime Prevention with a sample of 5,939 secondary school learners across all nine provinces. The school-based study included the principal and two educators per school, and followed on from a similar (broader) survey in 2008. The sample of secondary schools was stratified by province, with the sample being drawn proportionate to size. The DBE Education Management Information System was used as the sampling frame, from which 121 schools were randomly selected. Ten learners from each grade were randomly recruited from those who returned completed informed parental consent, resulting in a sample of 50 learners per school.

Females were slightly over-represented in this study and the age range of the participants extended to 27 years. However the patterns did not vary greatly when only responses from children aged 17 years and younger were analysed.
The two National School Violence Surveys (2008 and 2012) provide useful insights into the prevalence and patterns of violence in and related to the school environment. Unlike the questions on corporal punishment in the General Household Survey (Statistics South Africa) which are directed to an adult member of the household, the questions in the NSVS are asked directly to children about their own experiences.

However the NSVS is not conducted on a regular basis and there is therefore a gap in routine surveillance data on children's experience of corporal punishment in schools.
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