William & Mary Journal of Race, Gender, and Social Justice


For centuries, parents across the globe have utilized corporal punishment against children in the name of discipline. This Article is the first legal article to examine cross-national trends in child corporal punishment laws and to propose ideas for reducing its practice using the social norms approach. By examining 192 countries over a 46-year period, we shed light on emerging patterns. Additionally, by delving into countries’ self-reports regarding their compliance with the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) treaty, we observe other unique patterns globally.

Notably, during the course of our empirical research and data collection (2017–2019), significant moves to decrease the prevalence of child corporal punishment have emerged, such as the 2019 legislation in Japan seeking to outlaw the practice of child corporal punishment in Japanese homes, and the 2018 American Association for Pediatricians Statement asserting its first public admonishment of physical discipline against children in the home.

In our analysis, we utilize the country of Sweden—the first country worldwide to ban outright corporal punishment in the home—as our first case study to delve into the concept of norm cascades. We then showcase the country of Ethiopia—a country making great strides in changing societal norms about corporal punishment through public dissemination of literature and norm campaigns—as our second case study to examine concepts of re-norming. In conclusion, we demonstrate how social norms theories may be utilized to decrease the use and societal acceptance of child corporal punishment in the home.