Judicial corporal punishment

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Illustration from Nell in Bridewell depicting a prison whipping in 19th century Germany.
Vintage drawing of a judicial whipping at a post.
A flogging in Her Majesty's gaol of Newgate (1872).

In Pakistan, a Taliban Shariah beats a 17-year-old girl for breaking a minor Islamic law.

Judicial corporal punishment refers to the corporal punishment administered to convicted criminals with full authority of the law. It was common in many cultures throughout history. In the 19th and 20th centuries, nearly all industrialized countries abolished judicial corporal punishment; places where it is still in practice today (as of 2006) include the Caribbean, African, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Southeast Asian nations. In Islamic countries, judicial corporal punishment is usually based on and regulated by Sharia (or Syariah) law.

Description and historyEdit

Judicial corporal punishment is by definition nonconsensual and therefore quite different from consensual forms of adult corporal punishment such as erotic spanking, BDSM or domestic discipline.

From ancient times to the Middle Ages (and in some places later), judicially imposed torture was also used as a form of punishment.

Most judicial corporal punishment typically consists/consisted of whipping, birching or caning the delinquent on his/her bared back and/or buttocks. In some cultures beating of the feet (bastinado) was also used. The delinquent is/was usually restrained because judicial corporal punishment is so severe that the delinquent, even if they are willing to remain co-operative, usually would not be able to stay in position without being restrained. In most modern countries where judicial corporal punishment is practiced, it is often a legal requirement for a physician to be present when the punishment takes place, so that he/she can assess the damage and call for the punishment to be aborted when the health or life of the delinquent appears to be in danger.

For juvenile offendersEdit

Not only adults, but also juvenile offenders were subjected to judicial corporal punishment. In some places this applied to boys only, whereas in other places also girls would be subject to judicial corporal punishment. The way of administering such punishment, the implement used and the number of strokes would usually differ from adult judicial corporal punishment to be milder and appropriate to minors. Also, minors would be usually punished on their buttocks while adults were often punished on their backs.

In many countries, when judicial corporal punishment for adults was discontinued, milder forms of judicial corporal punishment for juvenile offenders were still in practice for some time.

Situation todayEdit

Titus Oates whipped for perjury, London, 1685.
Flogged for having an affair with a clergyman, Manassa, Colorado; art by Adolf Willette (c. 1890)
A resisting woman is prepared for judicial corporal punishment. Unknown date.

A list of 30 countries that still have lawful, official judicial corporal punishment today is as follows: [1]

  • Afghanistan (men and women - whip or strap, no target specified)
  • Antigua & Barbuda (boys only - details unclear)
  • Bahamas (men - cat on bare back; boys - cane on bare buttocks)
  • Barbados (boys only - details unclear)
  • Botswana (males aged 14 to 40 - cane on bare buttocks)
  • Brunei (men and boys - cane on bare buttocks)
  • Dominica (boys under 16 - details unclear)
  • Grenada (men and boys - details unclear)
  • Indonesia, Aceh State only (men and women - cane on clothed back)
  • Iran (men, women, boys, girls - whip or strap, no target specified)
  • Malawi (details unclear)
  • Malaysia (men and boys - cane on bare buttocks; Muslim men and women - cane on clothed back)
  • Maldives (men and women - details unclear)
  • Nigeria (men, women, boys, girls - cane on clothed buttocks or whip on bare back)
  • Pakistan (men and boys - cane or strap on clothed buttocks)
  • Qatar (men and women - details unclear)
  • St Vincent & The Grenadines (boys only - cane on bare buttocks)
  • Saudi Arabia (men and women - whip or cane over clothes, no target specified)
  • Sierra Leone (boys only - cane or birch on bare buttocks)
  • Singapore (men and boys - cane on bare buttocks)
  • Somalia (men and women - cane on clothed buttocks)
  • Sudan (men, women, boys, girls - whip on clothed back)
  • Swaziland (boys only - cane on bare buttocks)
  • Tanzania (men and boys - cane on bare buttocks)
  • Tonga (men - cat on bare buttocks; boys - birch or cat on bare buttocks)
  • Trinidad and Tobago (men only - cat on bare back or birch on bare buttocks)
  • Tuvalu (details unclear)
  • United Arab Emirates (men - whip on bare back; women - whip on clothed back)
  • Yemen (details unclear)
  • Zimbabwe (boys only - cane on bare buttocks)

The above list does not include countries where a blind eye is turned to "unofficial" judicial corporal punishment by local tribes, such as Bangladesh, Bolivia, Guatemala, India, and Palestine.

Some people in countries that have abolished judicial corporal punishment today reject the concept of judicial corporal punishment because they believe it violates human rights. Others feel that re-introducing judicial corporal punishment might be beneficial for society as it is a more deterring (and therefore, more effective) form of punishment than, for example, fines. Besides, it allows the offender to "pay" for his guilt without having to pay for it financially - which, in effect, makes punishment fairer to society as a whole as it punishes rich and poor offenders the same. A further argument in favor is that, even if it is not particularly effective as a deterrent, neither is imprisonment, and it is a great deal cheaper for the taxpayer.

A comprehensive online resource with well-researched information on judicial and other forms of factual corporal punishment is World Corporal Punishment Research ([1]) by C. Farrell.

See alsoEdit



Links on World Corporal Punishment ResearchEdit

Photo linksEdit

Warning: These photos show nonconsensual, present-day judicial corporal punishment. Click on the thumbnail pic in each case to see full size.