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Study explores Cambodia’s use of corporal punishment

Cambodian mothers are more likely to accept physical punishment of children than fathers, but the main factor contributing to the acceptance of violence against children is the acceptance of violence against wives, a new study has found.

The study, Predictors of Parents’ Perception of Physical Punishment of Children in Cambodia by Seng Tola, looks at socioeconomic and cultural factors that influence parents’ acceptance of corporal punishment against children.

The quantitative study of 2,585 men and an equal number of women found that while more than 74 percent of mothers accepted physical punishment of sons, only about 57 percent of fathers did. For daughters, the percentages fell to about 70 percent for mothers and around 47 percent for fathers.

This shows a two-pronged gender gap, the study argues: first, women are more likely to accept corporal punishment, and second, both parents are more likely to accept it against boys than girls.

“Since mothers spend more time taking care of their children and also doing house chores, they may get more stress; and thus they are more likely to view physical punishment of children as a technique in discipline,” the study says.

This was echoed by Ty Sovannary, a child rights specialist at Plan International, who said that this could simply be because “women are responsible for all the caretaking”.

“They can be very tired, fatigued and frustrated.”Moreover, more serious as-saults towards children were committed by men, he said.

According to UNICEF spokeswoman Iman Morooka, about 50 percent of Cambodian children “have experienced severe beating”.

The study also found that higher levels of education meant less acceptance of corporal punishment, and as women tend to attain lower levels of education in Cambodia on average, their acceptance might be higher.

But the study also noted differences in areas of punishments. “Interestingly, both mothers and fathers agreed that sons (more than daughters) should be punished for reasons such as ‘disobedience’, ‘being impolite’ and ‘embarrassing the family’. However, for reasons such as ‘not doing housework’ and ‘not taking care of younger siblings’, both parents were more approving of punishing girls rather than of boys,” the study reads.

But the most important factor in acceptance of corporal punishment, the study shows, is the acceptance of violence against women. “Parents who believe beating the wife is justified are more likely to accept justification for the physical punishment of children,” it says.

Other factors that influence fathers, but less so mothers, are their socioeconomic situation, their amount of media exposure and whether they are unemployed, while the number of children was found to be an influencing factor only among mothers.

However, Plan’s Sovannary pointed to the need for more research. “Some families are perfectly fine . . . and still there is violence,” he said. Beating children was often seen as a social norm, he said. “To change this, we need to touch their hearts,” he said, calling for more government funding to tackle the issue.

This was echoed by UNICEF’s Morooka, who said: “Perpetrators of violence often find it difficult to change their behaviour when the norms . . . remain unchallenged.”

Several government representatives could not be reached.

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