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Shortly after I put together the ONE SAFE GENERATION initiative for the Institute for Humanist Studies, I got a note from Institute director Matt Cherry.


The London-based International Humanist and Ethical Union (or IHEU, the worldwide union of humanist organizations) convenes a World Humanist Congress every three years. One of the tasks of the Congress is to consider resolutions and statements submitted by member organizations. Passed resolutions then serve as a kind of evolving statement of generally accepted humanist positions on issues of the day. If you want to know what the consensus is among humanists on abortion, euthanasia, contraception, reproductive rights, the environment, armed conflict, women’s rights, and a host of other issues, the IHEU resolutions offer the best available summary.

Matt had noticed that the organization had not yet taken a position on corporal punishment and asked that I draft a resolution. Here’s the text:

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) supports worldwide efforts to abolish the use of corporal punishment for the discipline of children.

Corporal punishment is defined as “the use of physical force with the intention of causing bodily pain or discomfort so as to change the subject’s behaviour or to punish them.”

Corporal punishment teaches children that violence is an acceptable means to make others do something, thereby perpetuating violent behaviour from generation to generation.

A growing body of research strongly indicates that corporal punishment is ineffective as a disciplinary measure and has strong associations with multiple undesirable outcomes, including an increased risk of depression, aggression, antisocial behaviour, and the continued use of violence in subsequent generations.

Nonviolent disciplinary techniques have been shown to be as effective as, or more effective than, corporal punishment. As humanism teaches the preference for nonviolent means whenever possible, IHEU supports efforts to educate parents and teachers regarding these disciplinary alternatives.

In response to growing evidence against corporal punishment, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, UNESCO, American Academy of Pediatrics (USA), Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (UK), and many other national and international organisations have condemned the practice. Twenty-five countries to date have declared corporal punishment illegal, and bans are under consideration by several others. Most national statutes already prohibit violence against adults, including family members. A corporal punishment ban seeks to extend the same protection to children.

The IHEU calls on all Member Organisations and Individual Members to promote opposition to corporal punishment at the national and international level by means of publicity, discussions, and education, with the aim to secure the abolition of the practice.

On June 8, the resolution was passed unanimously by the General Assembly of the 2008 World Humanist Congress in Washington DC.

The next phase of ONE SAFE GENERATION — an orchestrated campaign to focus attention and action in the humanist blogosphere on a series of child protection charities — is scheduled to launch on September 1. Watch for it.
Related posts:

Interview with corporal punishment researcher Elizabeth Gershoff, Ph.D.
Article: Most Parents Condone Spanking — Child Development Research Doesn’t (from Civitas)
Alternatives to corporal punishment

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Dale McGowan is the author of Parenting Beyond Belief, Raising Freethinkers, and Atheism for Dummies. He holds a BA in evolutionary anthropology and a PhD in music.