Corporal Punishment; To do or Not To Do

The Baha’i Writings have been at the forefront of counselling and educating humanity, including parents and educators, on the examination of what is the proper and effective discipline in the light of the purpose of bringing children up to be godlike spiritual beings. Baha’i teachings talk about the importance of some form of discipline and at the same time open the door for conversation and research about what constitutes an effective and helpful form of discipline and proper punishment. One criterion that is not open to negotiation is that the outcome of discipline must warrant both the safety and well-being of children.

Abdu’l-Baha teaches that;

Educate these children

The education and training of children are among the most meritorious acts of humankind and draweth down the grace and favor of the All-Merciful, for education is the indispensable foundation of all human excellence and alloweth man to work his way to the heights of abiding glory. If a child is trained from his infancy, he will, through the loving care of the Holy Gardener, drink in the crystal waters of the spirit and of knowledge, like a young tree amid the rilling brooks. And certainly, he will gather to himself the bright rays of the Sun of Truth, and through its light and heat will grow ever fresh and fair in the garden of life. Therefore must the mentor be a doctor as well: that is, he must, in instructing the child, remedy its faults; must give him learning, and at the same time rear him to have a spiritual nature. Let the teacher be a doctor to the character of the child, thus will he heal the spiritual ailments of the children of men. If in this momentous task, a mighty effort is exerted, the world of humanity will shine out with other adornings and shed the fairest light. Then will this darksome place grow luminous, and this abode of earth turn into Heaven. The very demons will change to angels then, and wolves to shepherds of the flock, and the wild-dog pack to gazelles that pasture on the plains of oneness, and ravening beasts to peaceful herds, and birds of prey, with talons sharp as knives, to songsters warbling their sweet native notes. The inner reality of man is a demarcation line between the shadow and the light, a place where the two seas meet;  it is the lowest point on the arc of descent and therefore is capable of gaining all the grades above. With education, it can achieve all excellence; devoid of education it will stay, at the lowest point of imperfection.


Every child is potentially the light of the world—and at the same time, its darkness; wherefore must the question of education be accounted as of primary importance? From his infancy, the child must be nursed at the breast of God’s love, and nurtured in the embrace of His knowledge, so that he may radiate light, grow in spirituality, be filled with wisdom and learning, and take on the characteristics of the angelic host.

Abdu’l-Baha (Selections From the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, pp 129-131)


Much evidence exists both in research and clinical observation to tell us that there is a strong correlation between the abused and becoming the abuser. The big question, especially for loving parents, is what we mean by abuse or corporal punishment of children.

  • What are the physical and emotional boundaries of discipline for a healthy upbringing?
  • How can good and loving parents administer punishment or reward?
  • Can a parent be angry and objective about the purpose and manner of punishment at the same time?
  • What does the latest research say about the change in the behavior of children when schools stop administering corporal punishment?
  • What does the latest research say about the change in the behavior of children when schools no longer administer corporal punishment but parents at home beat their children to administer discipline?

On October 25, 2018, NPR published an article saying: “When schools stop hitting kids, they stop hitting one another.”

A study finds:

Corporal punishments for kids, such as spankings, are still prevalent in many countries, but new research involving 400,000 kids shows about 70 percent less fighting among boys and 40 percent less among girls in countries that drop it. But it also found that for males, in particular, any reduction may be lost if corporal punishment is still permitted in the home.


A new study looking at 400,000 youths from 88 countries around the world suggests such bans are making a difference in reducing youth violence. It marks the first systematic assessment of whether an association exists between a ban on corporal punishment and the frequency in which adolescents get into fights. And, says Frank Elgar, the study’s lead author and an associate professor at the Institute for Health and Social Policy at McGill University in Montreal, “The association appears to be fairly robust.” The study appeared in the online journal BMJ Open. Of the countries included in the study, 30 have passed laws fully banning the physical punishment of children, both in schools and in homes. The rates of fighting among adolescents were substantially lower than in the 20 countries with no bans in place: 69 percent for adolescent males and 42 percent less for females.


What research does show is the negative consequences of spanking. Physical discipline is not only ineffective, but it can also cause harm, says Elizabeth Gershoff, a professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Texas at Austin who has been studying the impact of physical punishment on children for 20 years.

Discipline means teaching, and sometimes that involves modeling behavior,” such as using words to express disagreement and talking things out to find a solution, says Gershoff, who is completing a book about how to reduce physical punishment, aimed at psychologists, community organization leaders and policymakers. It also means praise when children do something we like, she says, “because that is the best way to increase the likelihood that will happen again.”


The premise of whether a child is born perfect and whole or comes with the potential for good as well as bad is very clear in the Baha’i Writings. Baha’i concept of self acknowledges that each person has a potential for good and bad, and education makes a big difference whether Luke Sky Walker or Darth Wader in us takes charge.

“The child when born is far from being perfect. It is not only helpless, but actually is imperfect, and even is naturally inclined towards evil. He should be trained, his natural inclinations harmonized, adjusted and controlled, and if necessary suppressed or regulated, so as to insure his healthy physical and moral development.”

(Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 152)

Abdu’l-Baha sets the boundary of what is not allowed when it comes to discipline. He sets the criteria to safeguard the character of the child. Safeguarding the character of the child opens the door of our hearts and minds to what science and research ultimately provide as a proper or improper way to discipline a child. An angry and out-of-control parent is not a safe administer of discipline and must take time out, and say some prayers before they are able to be about discipline with a loving and caring intention.

“It is not, however, permissible to strike a child, or vilify him, for the child’s character will be totally perverted if he be subjected to blows or verbal abuse.”

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 289-290)

‘Abdu’l-Bahá could have never meant that a child should be left to himself, entirely free. In fact, Bahá’í education, just like any other system of education is based on the assumption that there are certain natural deficiencies in every child, no matter how gifted, which his educators, whether his parents, schoolmasters, or his spiritual guides and preceptors should endeavor to remedy. The discipline of some sort, whether physical, moral, or intellectual, is indeed indispensable, and no training can be said to be complete and fruitful if it disregards this element.

(Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 152)

In the following passages, Shoghi Effendi clarifies how Baha’is and in particular parents and educators must have a clearer understanding of Abdu’l-Baha’s council about the importance of discipline using “wise discretion” and discipline the children “based on reason” not tradition or emotions. Baha’i Teachings leaves the door open for conversation about an effective manner of discipline based on both science and religion in the ways that ensure the well-being of future generations.

As to your question about the use of physical punishment in child training, although there is a Tablet of the Master which considers beating as not permissible, this does not necessarily include every form of corporal punishment. In order to have a full grasp of the Master’s attitude towards punishment, one has to study all His Tablets in this respect. For the time being no hard and fast rule can be laid down, and parents must use their own wise discretion in these matters until the time is ripe for the principles of Bahá’í education of children to be more clearly elucidated and applied.

(Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 151)

If the slightest undesirable trait should manifest itself, let her counsel the child and punish him, and use means based on reason, even a slight verbal chastisement should this be necessary.

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 289-290)

Bahá’í parents cannot simply adopt an attitude of non-resistance towards their children, particularly those who are unruly and violent by nature. It is not even sufficient that they should pray on their behalf.

(Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 152)

In the Baha’i view of raising well-balanced children who are going to be the light of the world, praise of a prosocial action is part of the process of disciplining and guiding children and protecting them from their lower self and animal tendencies. They must be encouraged and when any one of them shows good advancement, for further development they must be praised and encouraged therein.

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, Bahá’í Education, p. 73)

Whensoever a mother seeth that her child hath done well, let her praise and applaud him and cheer his heart.

(‘Abdu’l-Bahá, The Compilation of Compilations vol. I, p. 289-290)

Rather they should endeavor to inculcate, gently and patiently, into their youthful minds such principles of moral conduct and initiate them into the principles and teachings of the Cause with such tactful and loving care as would enable them to become ‘true sons of God and develop into loyal and intelligent citizens of His Kingdom. This is the high purpose which Bahá’u’lláh Himself has clearly defined as the chief goal of every education.”

(Shoghi Effendi, Lights of Guidance, p. 152)

As the world at large is experiencing a moral crisis of division and violence, understanding the Baha’i principle of the oneness of all humanity becomes a greater and more urgent need for creating a civilized world. Parents and educators play a most significant role in nurturing in our future generation the kindly manner that is required for a forwarding civilization. Violence does beget violence and we can no longer afford to ignore the principle of the oneness of all humanity as our global reality is turning into a global crisis.


The Writings are rich in allusions to the individual and his integrity, but also to the social disciplines based upon the moral precepts of the Faith, precepts which each of us must heed lest we fail to reflect in our lives those virtues propounded by the great Teacher for our day, and hence fail to meet our true destinies as spiritual beings.
(From a letter written on behalf of the Universal House of Justice to an individual believer on 14 August 1977)


While the physical discipline of children is an acceptable part of their education and training, such actions are to be carried out ‘gently and patiently’ and with “loving care”, far removed from the anger and violence with which children are beaten and abused in some parts of the world. To treat children in such an abhorrent manner is a denial of their human rights and a betrayal of the trust which the weak should have in the strong in a Bahá’í community.
(Universal House of Justice to an individual believer, 4 August 1996)


In closing I would like us to visit the prayer Abdu’l-Baha revealed for America in His 1912 historic visit to America. This prayer is filled with lofty hopes for America. Let us visit it daily for, much-needed healing, peace, and freedom from any prejudice and inspiration for what it takes to make America whole.

O Thou kind Lord! This gathering is turning to Thee. These hearts are radiant with Thy love. These minds and spirits are exhilarated by the message of Thy glad-tidings. O, God! Let this American democracy become glorious in spiritual degrees even as it has aspired to material degrees, and render this just government victorious. Confirm this revered nation to upraise the standard of the oneness of humanity, to promulgate the Most Great Peace, to become thereby most glorious and praiseworthy among all the nations of the world. O, God! This American nation is worthy of Thy favors and is deserving of Thy mercy. Make it precious and near to Thee through Thy bounty and bestowal.


A licensed Marriage and Family Therapist for over 20 years, specializes in using the Bahá’í Teachings to identify theories, techniques, and approaches that produce the best results for her clients. She is the founder and executive director of the Center for Global Integrated Education, a non-profit Bahá’í-inspired educational organization.


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