Defining ‘reasonable force’: Does it advance child protection?
Fifty-two countries have abolished all physical punishment of children, yet Canada has retained its criminal defense to 'reasonable' corrective force. In 2004, Canada's Supreme Court attempted to set limits on punitive acts that can be considered reasonable under the law. In the present study, we examined the validity of these limits. If the court's limits provide adequate protection to children, most substantiated child maltreatment cases should exceed those limits. We operationalized each limit and applied it to a provincially representative sample of substantiated child physical maltreatment cases. We found that the majority of substantiated physical abuse cases fell within each of the court's limits. In more than one in four substantiated physical abuse cases, not even one of the court's limits was exceeded. The best predictor of whether a report was substantiated was whether spanking was typical in the child's home. The findings suggest that abolition of physical punishment would provide greater protection to children than attempts to set limits on its use.