Corporal punishment and children's externalizing problems: a cross-sectional study of Tanzanian primary school aged children

Child Abuse Negl. 2014 May;38(5):884-92. doi: 10.1016/j.chiabu.2013.11.007. Epub 2013 Dec 17.


The adverse effect of harsh corporal punishment on mental health and psychosocial functioning in children has been repeatedly suggested by studies in industrialized countries. Nevertheless, corporal punishment has remained common practice not only in many homes, but is also regularly practiced in schools, particularly in low-income countries, as a measure to maintain discipline. Proponents of corporal punishment have argued that the differences in culture and industrial development might also be reflected in a positive relationship between the use of corporal punishment and improving behavioral problems in low-income nations. In the present study we assessed the occurrence of corporal punishment at home and in school in Tanzanian primary school students. We also examined the association between corporal punishment and externalizing problems. The 409 children (52% boys) from grade 2 to 7 had a mean age of 10.49 (SD=1.89) years. Nearly all children had experienced corporal punishment at some point during their lifetime both in family and school contexts. Half of the respondents reported having experienced corporal punishment within the last year from a family member. A multiple sequential regression analysis revealed that corporal punishment by parents or by caregivers was positively related to children's externalizing problems. The present study provides evidence that Tanzanian children of primary school age are frequently exposed to extreme levels of corporal punishment, with detrimental consequences for externalizing behavior. Our findings emphasize the need to inform parents, teachers and governmental organizations, especially in low-income countries, about the adverse consequences of using corporal punishment be it at home or at school.

Keywords: Aggressive behavior; Children; Corporal punishment; Externalizing problems; Sub-Saharan Africa; Tanzania.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Aggression / psychology
  • Child
  • Child Abuse / psychology*
  • Child Abuse / statistics & numerical data
  • Child Behavior Disorders / epidemiology
  • Child Behavior Disorders / psychology*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Punishment / psychology*
  • Tanzania / epidemiology