2011. Vol. 2, No. 1, 24-28
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. DOI:10.4236/psych.2011.21004
Corporal Punishment Study: A Case in Malaysia
Narasappa Kumaraswamy1, Azizah Othman2
1School of Medicine, University Malaysia Sabah, Kotakinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia;
2Department of Pediatric, School of Medical Sciences, Universiti Sains,
Kelantan, Malaysia.
Received October 3rd, 2010; revised November 22nd, 2010; accepted November 24th, 2010.
The study investigates the occurrence of childhood corporal punishment at home on a sample of participants
who resided in the northeast of Malaysia, Kelantan. The Discipline Questionnaire (DQ) - a 32-item self-report
instrument was completed by 196 medical students studying in fourth and fifth year at School of Medical Sci-
ences Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM). The participants were asked about the type, frequency, and severity of
parental corporal punishment they remembered to receive at home during childhood, in a ddition to their attitudes
toward corporal punishment on children. Sixty three percent of participants remembered being corporally pun-
ished at home, as children. Only 3% of them reported that the punishment reaches an abusive level – which was
defined as physical punishment that results in welts, bruises, bone fractures or breaks, or large/deep cuts. Pinch-
ing was the most commonly reported types of punishment used at home (35%), followed by slapping on the
hand, arm or leg (31%), whipping using flexible material such as leather or rope (23%), and spanking/slapping
on the buttocks with open hand (20%). The study indicates that on average the participants had a fairly favorable
attitude towards corporal punishment. The findings suggest that majority of parents in Malaysia have been using
corporal punishment on their children – primarily of mild types. Generally, the participants have had a fairly fa-
vorable attitude towards corporal punishment. Corporal punishment in this context is not perceived as an action
of abusing a child, but rather one of many ways to teach the child a lesson in life.
Keywords: Corporal Punishment, Childhood, Home, Malaysian Medical Students
Malaysia is located in Southeastern Asia with an approxi-
mate population of 23.27 million. Of this number, about 21,890
or 94.1% were Malaysian citizens. By races, majority is Bumi-
putera (65.1%); others are Chinese (26.0%) and Indians (7.7%)
(Malaysian Census 2000: Islam
is the official religion and is the most widely professed in Ma-
Child maltreatment has been in the society for many years.
However, only few years back it has been given substantial
attention and considered as problem in the community. Child
abuse and neglect is claimed can be found in all cultural, ethnic,
and both rural and urban areas (Wan Ismail, 1995). There are
many factors and causes leading to child abuse and neglect. An
abusive environmental model suggests several factors including
child related factors, parental factors, and social factors (Wan
Ismail, 1996).
A Malaysian child is protected from social and economic ex-
ploitation by several legislations. The Juvenile Courts Acts
1947 for example, has a dominant concern on issues amongst
children’s aged 10 to 18 years old. The rights, liabilities and
duties of parents are contained in the Guardian of Infant 1961.
Any persons who neglects or refuses to look after his legi timate
child may be ordered by court to do so under The Married Wo-
man and Children (Maintenance Ordinance) 1950 (Department
of Social Welfare Malaysia, 2000). The Child Protection Act
1991 protects children from all forms of abuse and to prevent
the abuse from recurring. Section 2 (3) for example, gives legal
authority for children to be transferred to a children’s home as
“a place of safety” in the event of physical abuse or neglect,
emotional or sexual abuse (Fulcher & Mas’ud, 2000). Under
the same Act, The Minister of National Unity and Community
Development is responsible to provide a social plan to eligible
children that includes opportunities for the child’s physical,
mental, socio-emotional and language development. A recent
statue called Child Bill 2000 which combines the aforemen-
tioned acts defines a Malaysian child as one below 18 years of
age. The Act is a breakthrough in the country’s successful at-
tempt to include the spirit of the Convention Rights of the Child
as preamble of the Act henceforth being part of the law (De-
partment of Social Welfare Malaysia, 2000).
In providing immediate responds to the victims, the Sexual
Child Abuse and Neglect (SCAN) teams are established. The
team provides a 24 hour toll free hotline for reporting, counsel-
ing and registration of abused children. Preventive measures
including the setting up of child activity centers within the
community that provide educational and development support
services to children and families in socially high risk areas
(Department of Social Welfare Malaysia, 2000).
In Malaysia, the incidence of child abuse can be inferred
from various survey studies conducted in the country. The
Ministry of Community Welfare stated that 1,013 abuse cases
were reported in Peninsula Malaysia, from 1981 to 1988 (Sa-
mad, 1992) and from 1983 to 1993, 4479 new cases were
reported (Man, 1995). A report from General Hospital Kuala
Lumpur (GHKL) reveals an increase number of reported cases
of suspected child abuse and child neglect, from 25 cases in
1985 to 211 cases in 1991. The cases were either categorized
as physical abuse, sexual abuse, or physical neglect. Many of
the victims were small children and a third was less than three
years old, similar to international data in physical abuse (Wan
Ismail, 1995). Of those detected abuse cases in GHKL, 82
were classified as mild, and 37 were severe. Thirty death cas-
es were detected due to physical abuse in between those years.
The report indicates that those severely mistreated were more
often than not abused by their caretakers. Fathers were the
most frequent abusers, followed by mothers, and then the
caretakers (Kassim, 1997).
The incidence of child abuse and child maltreatment is very
much related to one’s cultural practices and values. To illustrate,
in a traditional family, father is the key figure, who is, in most
Malay families applies authoritarian parenting style. Authori-
tarian in this sense implies certain aspects like he is the person
who will give punishment for any wrongdoings in the house, he
makes most of family decision, and he must be informed of any
important occurrences in the family. Usually, the father-figure
is a quiet, calm, and less talk-more action oriented person. Nor-
mally, small children are afraid of him, and gradually as they
become older they develop respect to the father. As far as the
punishment in the house is concerned, father has authority to
punish his children. Usually, traditional parenting practices
involve canning, but it is rarely done as it applies only to the
most depraved acts.
In Malaysia particularly, it is difficult to ascertain the abu-
sive incidence in the society as many people are reluctant to
become involved through reporting of such cases. Malay chil-
dren in particular, are raised in an environment which involves
elements of secrecy, guilt, and shame. Sue (1997) as quoted by
Futa et al., (2001) mentions that the feelings of guilt and
shame may extend to children’s tendency to blame themselves
for problems in the family due to egocentric thinking. It is also
common for parents to instill guilt and shame feelings to con-
trol the behavior of family members. Shon and Ja (1982), as
reported by the same previous author, explain the social con-
cept of shame in the culture is frequently associated with the
phrase “loss of face” in the literature, which means shame in
the face of society. Shame and loss of face are among ways
how the culture enforces values of conformity, inconspicu-
ousness and interdependent, group oriented society. When a
person is shamed, there is risk the family, community, and
societal confidence and support will be withdrawn (Futa et al,
Islam, as a religion, serves as a protective factor as it promotes
compassionate and kind treatment to children. It is the respon-
sibility and obligation of the parents to take care of their chil-
dren, as every child is considered as a trust and a gift from Allah.
The present study aims to investigate:
1. The occurrence of childhood corporal puni shme nt at ho me
on a sample of participants who are medical students of
2. To confirm the occurrence of corporal punishment and to
know at what extent these students remembered the cor-
poral punishment.
3. To know the student attitude towards corporal punish-
The participants consisted of a total of 196 Malaysian stu-
dents of School of Medical Sciences Hospital Universiti Sains
Malaysia (HUSM) Kelantan Malaysia. All of them were medi-
cal students aged from 24 to 26, either in their fourth or fifth
year of study. Data was collected in the year of 2000 by the first
The Discipline Questionnaire (DQ) is a 32-item self-report
instrument that took approximately 10 to 15 minutes to com-
plete. Items 1-12 asked about demographic information that
included age, gender, ethnicity, religion, and socioeconomic
status. Items 13-22 measured the type, frequency, and severity
of parental corporal punishment remembered in the home by
the participant. Items 23-25 assessed the participants’ remem-
bered experience with alternative disciplinary strategies used by
their parents. Finally, items 26-32 asked participants’ attitudes
toward corporal punishment in children.
All the DQ items were selected from Hyman’s Survey of At-
titudes toward Children (SATC), and used to compile a total
attitude score, a key element of the present study. To determine
a total attitude score, items 26 to 32 were summed. However,
items 27, 29, 31, and 32 were reverse scored. That is, a re-
sponse of 1 on these items would be scored a 5; a response of 2
would be scored as a 4; and vice versa. Therefore, a higher total
attitude score is indicative of a respondent in favor of the use of
corporal punishment. The actual possible range of scores for the
total attitude scale was 8 to 40. The DQ has been reviewed by
an advisory panel of prominent abuse researchers including
Murray Straus, Joan Durrant, Edward Zigler, Cynthia Price-
Cohen, Stuart Hart, and Ralph Welsh, and the participating
international scholars, and has been found to have strong con-
tent validity. Test-retest reliability was conducted with a two-
week interval for re-test from the American sample, and was
also found to be acceptable at 0.87.
Potential researchers from various part of the world were in-
vited to join the cross cultural studies on corporal punishment
by the American researchers through international bodies re-
lated to children maltreatment such as the International School
Psychology Association (ISPA), the International Society for
Research on Aggression (ISRA), and the International Society
for Prevention of Child Abuse and Neglect (ISPCAN). More
researchers were invited to participate via an announcement in
the Psychology International Winter 2000 Newsletter of the
American Psychological Association’s (APA) Office of Inter-
national Affairs.
Ethical approval to conduct research at the university was
obtained and students who agreed to participate signed the
consent form before completing the questionnaires. The origi-
nal English version of the questionnaire was used since all stu-
dents are assumed to know the language well as English is the
medium of learning instruction for medical student Year 4 and
5. The questionnaire was filled in the class after a brief descrip-
tion of the study by the researcher.
Correspondence established and maintained with researchers
in the U.S. mainly via electronic mail and phone calls as neces-
sary. The data collected in were sent to the U. S. via an e-mail
attachment and synthesized for comparison.
The present article presents the main findings of the cross
cultural study on corporal punishment as experienced by Ma-
laysian students studying at school of Medical sciences, Uni-
versiti Sains Malaysia. We examined the percentage of partici-
pants who admitted receiving corporal punishment as a child, at
home; the typical types of punishment they remembered getting
and its severity; as well as the participants’ perceptions and
attitude towards the usage of corporal punishment at home in
The answers for Question 13 of the DQ were used to meas-
ure how many percent of the participants remember receiving
corporal punishment when they were at home. The question
read, “As a child did you ever receive corporal punishment in
your home?” The results indicated that more than half (63%) of
participants in the present study remembered being corporally
punished at home, as children.
Items 20 and 21 of the Discipline Questionnaire were ex a m ine d
separately to determine whether the remembered experience of
corporal punishment a child received in the home reached a
physically abusive level. Item 20 relates to the severity of the
typical incident of corporal punishment, while item 21 requires
a response to the most severe incident of corporal punishment.
According to Straus’ 1994 definition, child abuse is defined as
clear, identifiable harm or injury to the child that usually includ es
physical evidence of attacks on the child such as bruises, welts,
contusions, broken bones, or scars. Based on that definition,
two of the choices for respondents on items 20 and 21 were
used to determine if the physical punishment they received
reached an abusive level. Either of the following responses was
considered to be abusive discipline: caused welts or bruises; or
caused physical injury more serious than welts or bruises (such
as bone fractures or breaks, large or deep cuts). Responses to
either of these items were summed to determine the percentage
of participants who were physically abused as children.
The results indicated that only 3% of the participants re-
membered the typical experience with corporal punishment that
reaches an abusive level – which was defined as physical pun-
ishment that results in welts, bruises, bone fractures or breaks,
or large/deep cuts. Five percent (5%) of the participants c laime d
to remember the most severe experience with corporal punish-
ment that reaches an abusive level.
Question 19 of the DQ asked participants to remember the
types of corporal punishment they remember receiving as chil-
dren in the home and ticked the applicable types of punishment.
The participants can choose to respond with as many choices as
applied. Therefore, many subjects responded that they received
multiple forms of corporal punishment at home as children (e.g.,
circled more than one response). Table 1 corresponds to ques-
tion 19 of the Discipline Questionnaire on which participants
were asked to remember the types of corporal punishment they
remember receiving as children in the home. Not surprisingly,
each culture has its own methods of corporal punishment.
The participants responded on questions that asked them to
tick the types of corporal punishment they remember receiving
as children at home. The results showed that pinching is the
most commonly reported types of punishment used at home
(35%), followed by slapping on the hand, arm or leg (31%),
whipping using flexible material such as leather or rope (23%),
Table 1.
Types of corporal punishment used in participants’ home.
Response Percentage (%)
Pinching 35
Slapping on the hand, arm, or leg 31
Whipping (Flexible material such as lea ther or
rope) 23
Spanking (Slapping on the buttocks with open
hand) 20
Slapping on face, head, or ears 12
Shaking 5
Hitting with object such as hairbrush or paddle 4
Arm twisting 3
Hair Pulling 3
Punching 2
Kicking 2
Beating up (hit as hard as possible , over and
over) 2
Other 2
Throwing or knocking down 1
Choking 1
Burning or scalding on purpose 1
Threatening with a knife or gun 1
and spanking slapping on the buttocks with open hand (20%).
Other forms of punishment used at home reported by the par-
ticipants were slapping on face, head or ears (12%), shaking
(5%), hitting with objects such as hairbrush or paddle (4%) and
arm twisting or hair pulling (3%). Punching, kicking, beating as
hard as possible and repeatedly, throwing or knocking down,
chocking, burning or scalding on purpose or threatening with
knife or gun were the least commonly reported types of pun-
ishment (2% and lesser) experienced by participants in Malay-
Finally, the participants’ attitude towards corporal punish-
ment was measured using seven single statements of 5-point
scale. The score clo se r to 1 indicating an attitude against the use
of corporal punishment, and scores closer to 5 indicating an
attitude for the use of corporal punishment. The mean attitude
score of the participants regarding the use of corporal punish-
ment was 2.9, indicates a fairly favorable attitude towards cor-
poral punishment.
The majority of the participants remembered receiving cor-
poral punishment at home, when they were child. One of the
possible reasons may due to the fact that some forms of ‘cor-
poral punishment’ as defined in this study are amongst the
common techniques used by the parents in Malaysia in parent-
ing their children. The techniques including slapping on the
hand and whipping on the buttock, once were not regarded as
forms of physical abuse, but much of as different ways of
teaching or reprimanding the misbehaved children (Kaur, 2000;
Ling, 2000; Tan, 2000; Nagrace, 2000). This idea is proven by
a popular Malay proverbs relating to family practices ‘sayang-
kan tanak tangankan’, literally means ‘if you love the child,
then you should use your hands (i.e. physically beating etc) to
teach them a lesson’. This notion of parenting is quite similar to
the English proverbs ‘spare the rod, spoilt the child’, which is
in a way accepting the application of physical forms of pun-
ishment in parenting a child.
Even though the new act of child abuse, states severe pun-
ishment for the abusers the practice of child abuse still going on
in Malaysian society. Many of the parents believe that non
abusive physical abuse is beneficial but still there is no substan-
tial evidence to prove this Larzelere (2000) states more research
is needed on non abusive physical punishment.Most of the stu-
dents in the present study shows the favourable attitude in using
corporal punishment.
As using physical forms of punishment in teaching the child
is acceptable and commonly practiced during the days when the
participants in this study were children (around 1980s-1990s),
the high reporting of receiving such punishment at home is not
surprising. Around these years too, child abuse polices were not
yet established, or at least fully implemented in the country, so
the parents were possibly unaware of the implications of their
actions. On top of that, many parents may have not been ex-
posed to different or better techniques of teaching and/or par-
enting a child as the parents today, where marriage and family
courses are made compulsory to new married couples. In com-
parison to the earlier generation, parents now may be better
informed about effective parenting styles.
Despite having majority of participants admitted to remem-
ber having corporally punished as a child at home, very small
number of them remembered and reported getting punishment
that are severe or reach an abusive level. Thus, most of pun-
ishments given were mild in nature and possibly negligible.
These results supported the above arguments that parents have
been using corporal punishment mainly as a way to teach the
child, rather than purposely abusing them. There are some stu-
dies (Ellison & Sherkat, 1993) support the corporal punishment
as an acceptance of the Biblical literalism, the conviction that
human sin demands punishment. Results of the present study
similarly accepts the role of religion and the father as the Head
of the family is responsible to maintain the discipline by using
corporal punishment as and when necessary (Futa et al., 2001).
In another study, the corporal punishment is commonly seen
in nuclear family with children of mixed parentage are reported
(Nathan & Hwang, 1981). It may be true in Malaysia as Malay-
sia is a multi religious and multiracial country where one can
find the marriages are common among different races.
One more study reports that widespread use of corporal pun-
ishment present in Indian setup,where as children finds this is
unacceptable (Segal, 1999). This is contrary to our results as
most of the students express favourable attitude towards corpo-
ral punishment.
Corporal punishment is a discipline method in which a su-
pervising adult deliberately inflicts pain upon a child in re-
sponse to a child’s unacceptable behavior and / or inappropriate
language. The immediate aims of such punishment are usually
to halt the offence, prevent its recurrence and set an example
for others. The purported long-term goal is to change the
child’s behavior and to make it more consistent with the adult’s
expectations. In corporal punishment, the adult usually hits
various parts of the child’s body with a hand, or with canes,
paddles, yardsticks, belts, or other objects expected to cause
pain and fear (Dayton 1994).
Corresponding to above findings, the results further indicated
that majority of Malaysian parents engage in ‘milder’ types of
corporal punishment such as pinching, slapping on hand, arm or
lap, and not throwing or knocking the child down, choking,
burning or scalding on purpose or threatening with a knife or
Having said that, it is logical that majority of the participants
in this particular sample have had a fairly favorable attitude
towards corporal punishment. They may perceive that corporal
punishment, to certain extent, is not an action of abusing a child,
but rather one of many ways to teach them a lesson in life.
The findings of the present study suggest that majority of
parents in Malaysia have been using corporal punishment on
their children – primarily of mild types. Generally, the partici-
pants have had a fairly favorable attitude towards corporal pun-
ishment which may suggest that corporal punishment in this
context is not perceived as an action of abusing a child, but
rather one of many ways to teach the child a lesson in life.
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