Equally protected?

Topics: Safeguarding and child protection

A review of the evidence on the physical punishment of children

This report was commissioned by NSPCC Scotland, Children 1st, Barnardo's Scotland and the Children and Young People's Commissioner Scotland. It is an update of a 2008 review of physical punishment in Northern Ireland, The 'smacking debate' in Northern Ireland: messages from research (PDF).

This review was produced by researchers at the Department of Epidemiology and Public Health at University College London (UCL). It summarises evidence that has become available since the Northern Ireland review about:

  • the prevalence of and attitudes towards parental physical punishment in the UK and other Organisation for Economic Co-operation (OECD) countries
  • the short and long term outcomes of physical punishment for health, development and wellbeing
  • the relationship between physical punishment and the risk of child maltreatment.

Authors: Anja Heilmann, Yvonne Kelly and Richard G Watt
Published: 2015

Key findings 

Key findings from the evidence include:

  • physical punishment is in decline in many countries, including the UK
  • physical punishment is associated with increased childhood aggression and antisocial behaviour
  • experiencing physical punishment is related to depressive symptoms and anxiety among children
  • physical punishment carries a serious risk of escalation into abuse.


"The international evidence could not be any clearer – physical punishment has the potential to damage children and carries the risk of escalation into physical abuse."

Professor Sir Michael Marmot, UCL


Please cite as: Heilmann, A., Kelly, Y. and Watt, R.G. (2015) Equally protected?: a review of the evidence on the physical punishment of children. London: NSPCC.