Violence in the Family and Child Abuse


Family violence refers to various brutal actions and behaviors among various members of a family. It can comprise violence from parents towards their youngsters, the fierceness of children against their folks, siblings against other siblings, and/or conflicts between the husband and the wife. Canada recorded 87,820 cases of domestic violence. 16,700 of the cases involved violence against children. Most of this violence cases were propagated by 60 percent of Canadian parents where girls were the most victimized category. Various approaches have been adopted to comprehend violence in the family, particularly violence against children. Despite the numerous approaches that have been established to address the issue, this paper will adopt a sociological perspective in analyzing child abuse within a family setup. The paper will examine why spanking is still legal in Canada before providing a brief history of child abuse laws.

Spanking of Children in Canada

Section 43 of the Criminal Code permits parents, guardians, and teachers to spank kids. The method involves applying a reasonable force in an attempt to reprimand the kids. The said legal clause has triggered controversial discussions where one faction advocates the need for the law to be repealed to eliminate cases of physical castigation of children. The other group is comfortable with the spanking law. This group asserts that minimal punishment is tolerable as long as individuals who use unreasonable force face criminal prosecution.

Spanking is a form of physical correction where one strikes the buttocks of another individual to trigger temporary pain as a discipline strategy to the offender. It can involve using an open hand, caning, or paddling to punish one for intolerable conduct. The law permits spanking as a means of disciplining children. However, it does not mean that parents and teachers are allowed to abuse youngsters physically under the umbrella of the spanking law. According to Grover (2014), parents can face criminal charges where the corporal punishment is unreasonable.

Spanking Law/Corporal Punishment in Canada

The history of spanking in Canada dates back to 1892 when it borrowed its frameworks from the British law on corporal punishment. Since then, Canada joined other countries in permitting the use of corporal punishment. However, in 1979, Sweden became the first state to introduce anti-spanking laws. Canada assented to the United Nations Conventions on Rights of the Child that sought to discourage every form of psychosomatic and corporal abuse towards youngsters. In the subsequent years, the country has witnessed vehement support and criticisms of spanking children. For instance, in 1998, the Canadian Foundation for Children filed an application to court requesting the spanking law to be reviewed claiming that it was unconstitutional. The body’s application was unsuccessful. In 2000, Ontario Superior Court upheld Section 43 of the Criminal Code asserting that corporal punishment was legal as long as a limited physical force was applied. Furthermore, in 2001, a religious leader in Ontario encouraged his church members to use spanking as a means of correcting their children. On the hand, the call for introducing anti-spanking laws in Canada has not been ceased. As Elder (2014) confirms, more activists are raising concerns about the abusive nature of the corporal punishment.

The persistence of spanking in the current generation is mainly linked to its strong cultural history. Not only does it have a religious support but also a cultural and legal backing that has made it gradually develop into a norm. Corporal punishment has its origins in the Common Law, which is a legal practice in the Anglo-Saxon and Roman Law. Traditionally, the British Law allowed guardians, parents, and masters to punish individuals who were under their watch, including children, servants, and slaves. Sir William Blackstone, a renowned English jurist, encouraged the idea of parents, particularly fathers, to reprimand their children since the method had the benefit of educating them. It was meant to help them in correcting their intolerable conducts. The British colonies such as Canada gradually adopted the notion that it was legal to castigate disorderly children, as various British traditions and norms were being imported into the colonies (Covell & Howe, 2006).

Nonetheless, the form of punishment that is permissible by the law has become more reasonable and of limited force than in the in the archaic English laws. Initially, some laws allowed fathers to call for the killing of their recalcitrant children if they were beyond sixteen years old. In 1646, the Massachusetts Bay Colony ratified a law that permitted a man to order for the execution a stubborn child law. Other rulers in Connecticut, Rhode Island New Hampshire, also adopted the law. It existed in the Massachusetts region for more than three centuries until it was amended in 1973. Prior to its repealing, many youngsters were confined in prisons, with some of them being below the age of fifteen years old, on the grounds of being unruly to their parents (Axelrod, 2010). For example, 300 girls were reprimanded in the Framingham Women’s Reformatory because of unwanted pregnancies.

Religious readings formed the reference point for such harsh laws. For instance, in Deuteronomy Chapter 21 verse 18 to 21, the Bible permits a father to take a defiant son to elders and the public for them to stone the child to death, if he or she is found to be rebellious. Legislators in New England ratified similar laws with the perception that they were accomplishing the will of God. However, they were not keen enough to note that Judaism had discouraged the application of the ‘Torah’ to an extent that it was never imposed on anyone. Furthermore, the application of the Stubborn Child Law faced a lot of criticism from different religious sects (Garrison, 2007). Rabbinic Judaists were hesitant to implement it arguing that the Torah was meant to warn defiant children and that the stoning was not meant to be instantaneous. It required the deliberation from elders. Moreover, there was a need for agreement among the parents that the child was stubborn. In case the mother disagreed with the father, the man would not report the child to the elders for public castigation (Elder, 2014).

According to Shelton (2011), various individuals must have misinterpreted the presence of religious readings that encouraged men to discipline their apprentices and children to the extent of leading to child abuse. The instances of parents physically abusing their children in Canada are high. Although statistical findings have been vague in distinguishing the percentage of fathers or mothers who engage in child abuse, the percentage of women who escape husbands who abuse their children is an indication of the how men are using force to discipline children. A home survey that was conducted in Washington in 2012 indicated that 32% of women who abandoned abusive situations were attempting to protect their youngsters from abusive men (Middleton, 2012). Such findings indicate how norms that have been borrowed from religious readings have contributed to men becoming violent in their families.

Covell and Howe (2006) assert that the notion that triggered the formation of the Stubborn Child Law must have guided the drafters of the 1982 Canadian Criminal Code that endorsed the utilization of force by individuals who had authority, for instance masters and parents. Similarly, the current Section 43 of the Criminal Code relies on the 1892 law, although the section that permitted masters to reprimand their apprentice was removed. Despite its existence, several institutions and activists, particularly the Department of Justice, have advocated the spanking law to be dropped. Several bills have been introduced in the parliament to repeal the law unsuccessfully (Shelton, 2011).

Courts have applied various approaches that uphold Section 43 and Section 55. For example, in R v Ogg-Moss case, the court asserted that spanking is backed by deep-rooted norms that interpret corporal punishment not only as a wrong that the law should ignore but also as a privilege that a parent has with respect to his or her child. Furthermore, in R v Baptiste case, the court claimed that whether a force is reasonable or not depends on the norms of a community. However, if the father intends to injure a minor, the community’s culture will not be considered (Middleton, 2012).

Indeed, the society is changing. The archaic beliefs that encouraged fathers to discipline their children without criticism have changed with time. Initially, children and women were viewed as the property of the man. Thus, the situation provided an easy loophole for men to abuse their children and wives in the name of disciplining them. However, wives and children are not viewed as a man’s property, but a government’s asset, in the contemporary society whether on a social or a legal platform. A more popular phenomenon in the current society is viewing the family as a social body. Just like any other social institution, families are driven by three major elements, namely similar ideas, practices, and arrangements (Garrison, 2007). Various policies govern the elements, including the protection of members and treasuring family relationships (Axelrod, 2010). Using these elements, some families demonstrate diverse ways of carrying out the duties such as the separation of chores based on gender. This chore separation often leads to wife abuse. Parents have a duty to nurture their children. To achieve this goal, they should discipline them, although the ideology has led to child abuse (Shelton, 2011).

The Future of Spanking

Although various social norms are changing with the changing environment and ideas, the apparent division on whether spanking should be prohibited will lead to the persistence of corporal punishment. Most Canadian parents prefer corporal punishment to be banned in schools and not in a family setup. Nonetheless, commentators such as Middleton (2012) have encouraged the need to repeal the spanking law because it is not only ineffective but also injurious.

Several institutions have revealed how corporal punishment plays a negative role in the upbringing of children. Hence, laws should be enacted to make spanking an assault, just as it is upheld in the case of adults. These groups encourage parents to come up with other forms of punishment. However, individuals who advocate the creation of anti-spanking laws because the corporal punishment has a negative impact on youngsters have failed to show the difference between spanking and physical abuse. Furthermore, they fail to show whether the negative impacts that are linked to physical punishment are indeed triggered by spanking (Covell & Howe, 2006).

As implied earlier, the family is a social system and that parents have a duty to ensure the best upbringing of their children. Most societies are also patrilineal in nature. They view men as the heads of families. Thus, men have the privilege to punish the children and wives in the process of invoking good mannerisms on them. Since communities have traditionally practiced spanking for several years, they have no disputes with parents spanking their children. Such communities have an issue with the law prohibiting them to raise their children according to their culture and traditions. This observation suggests that spanking of children by caretakers and parents is likely to remain a controversial topic in Canada (Axelrod, 2010).


While the family is expected to provide the ultimate care that any individual needs in life, violence in the family, particularly against children, remains an endemic problem. Children depend on their parents for proper upbringing. This duty is indeed strenuous. In the process of nurturing them, parents have been granted the right to physically discipline their children in case of intolerable behavior. Long-established religious precepts, social norms, and state laws have supported this right. However, some parents have misused the right. They have ended up abusing their children, thus causing the need to rethink whether the laws should be repealed. Indeed, there is a need to ensure that the existing laws do not lead to child abuse. However, eliminating spanking laws such as Section 43 and Section 55 of the Canadian Criminal Code remains a controversial move.

Reference List

Axelrod, P. (2010). No Longer a ‘Last Resort’: The End of Corporal Punishment in the Schools of Toronto. Canadian Historical Review, 91(2), 261-285.

Covell, K., & Howe, B. (2006). The Challenge of Children’s Rights for Canada. Ontario: Wilfrid Laurier Univ. Press.

Elder, S. (2014). A Right to Beat a Child? Corporal Punishment and the Law in Wilhelmine Germany. Central European History, 47(1), 54-75.

Garrison, T. (2007). From Parent to Protector: The History of Corporal Punishment in American Public Schools. Journal of Contemporary Legal Issues, 16(1), 115-119.

Grover, S. (2014). Children Defending their Human Rights under the CRC Communications Procedure: On Strengthening the Convention on the Rights of the Child Complaints Mechanism. New York, NY: Springer.

Middleton, J. (2012). Spare the rod. History Today, 62(11), 5-6.

Shelton, D. (2011). International Law and Domestic Legal Systems: Incorporation, Transformation, and Persuasion. New York, NY: OUP Oxford.