Data for 69 population-based surveys from the Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey (MICS) were combined. The sample included 131,164 children aged 36–59 months living in 49 LMICs. The surveys included information about children's developmental status and exposure to corporal punishment in the prior month. Logistic models, random-effects meta-analysis, and moderation analysis were used to obtain pooled estimates and assess the extent to which the association between corporal punishment and child developmental outcomes varied across countries.
On average, children exposed to corporal punishment were about 24% (β = 0.76, 95% CI 0.72–0.80) less likely to be developmentally on track than children who were not exposed to corporal punishment. Challenges in social-emotional development may drive the association between child development and corporal punishment. Corporal punishment was not associated with any positive developmental outcome in any country. There was minor heterogeneity in the estimated associations, which was not explained by the extent to which corporal punishment was normative within countries.
All forms of corporal punishment – including spanking – are likely to be harmful to young children's development and wellbeing. Public education, legal prohibition of corporal punishment, and other efforts are needed to protect children from corporal punishment and promote their wellbeing, health, and development.