The researchers observed that primary school students who were beaten by teachers or family members in the name of discipline tended to show more behaviour problems, not fewer.
"Parents aim to educate children through corporal punishment, but instead of learning good social behaviours, the beatings often have the opposite effect," said Tobias Hecker, a psychologist at the University of Konstanz, who led the study.
To test whether the same is true in a culture where physical punishment is the norm and the law allows teachers to use it, the researchers interviewed 409 children between grades 2 and 7 at one private school in the country. Participants averaged 10.5 years old.
Ninety-five per cent of the boys and girls said they had been physically punished at least once in their lifetime by a teacher. The same percentage reported physical punishment from parents or caregivers. The majority of children, 82 per cent, had been beaten with sticks, belts or other objects and 66 per cent had been punched, slapped or pinched.
Nearly one-quarter of the kids had experienced punishment so severe that they were injured. "Children learn aggressive behaviour and become more aggressive toward other children," Hecker said.
Within the group, 21 per cent of the boys and girls showed aggression problems through affirmative answers to questions like, "Have you ever taken things from others against their will?" Nine per cent of children had higher-than-normal levels of hyperactivity.
About 11 per cent of the kids showed less empathetic behaviour than peers who had not experienced physical punishment. The Commissioner of Education in the Ministry of Education and Vocational Training, Prof Eustella Bhalalusesa said she had not seen the research findings, but noted that caning in schools is only allowed when all other measures to discipline children fail.
"If corporal punishment has to be administered, then it has to be endorsed by heads of schools," she said when reached for comments. She insisted, however, that the government never encourages such kind of punishment. Human right activists in the country have also been up in arms, calling for abolition of corporal punishment in schools.
"Some people still believe, despite an overwhelming body of evidence, that corporal punishment in some cultures won't result in as many negative effects," George Holden told Reuters Health. "But, as this study shows, it's difficult to find support for that argument," said Holden, a professor of psychology at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, who was not involved in the study.
Past research, mainly in industrialised countries, has found that children and teens who experience corporal punishment may 'externalise' their negative experiences in the form of bad behaviour and emotional problems, Hecker and his colleagues write in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect.
"From this study, it's difficult to generalise the results to milder forms of punishment, like spanking," said Christopher Ferguson of Stetson University in Florida. "There's a difference between a parent who spanks a child in the context of a loving family and explains what the spanking is for compared with the parent who starts swatting because of some other non-related situation," said Ferguson, who was not involved in the research.
"The context is probably important but we really haven't dealt with it yet," he added. Thirty-four countries in the world have laws against corporal punishment, according to the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children. In 1979, Sweden became the first country to make corporal punishment illegal.
"Certainly everyone wants to see physical abuse eliminated as much as possible," said Robert Larzelere of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. But the new research can only point to a relationship between behavioural problems and physical force for punishment - not a causal link, said Larzelere, who was not part of the study.
He pointed out that the researchers did not measure the children's behaviour before corporal punishment occurred. Hecker and his team acknowledge in their report that their study does not establish cause and effect.
It could be argued that children with behavioural problems may be more likely to experience physical punishment. At a minimum, they note, even if that is the case, their results show that corporal punishment does not improve children's behaviour. Hecker said he hopes this new study will help bring about awareness in places like Tanzania, where corporal punishment still is widespread.
"What people usually see after a spanking or beating is immediate compliance," Hecker said. "But in the long-term, they are really instilling fear in the child and children do act out of fear but not out of respect."
Source: Tanzania Daily News