Caning: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Rattan cane

Caning is a form of corporal punishment (see that article for generalities and alternatives) consisting of a number of hits (known as "strokes" or "cuts") with a cane usually made of rattan, generally applied to the offender's bare or clothed buttocks (see spanking) or hand(s) (on the palm). Application of a cane to the knuckles or the shoulders has been much less common. Caning can also be applied to the soles of the feet (foot whipping). The size and flexibility of the cane and the mode of application, as well as the number of the strokes, vary greatly -- from a couple of light strokes with a small cane across the seat of a junior schoolboy's trousers, to 24 very hard, wounding cuts on the bare buttocks with a large, heavy, soaked rattan as a judicial punishment in south-east Asia.

The thin cane generally used for corporal punishment is not to be confused with a walking stick, sometimes also called (especially in American English) a "cane" but which is thicker and much more rigid, and more likely to be made of strong wood than of cane.


Scope of use

Caning was a common official school and judicial punishment in many parts of the world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Corporal punishment (with a cane or any other implement) has now been outlawed in Europe, but caning remains legal and prevalent in numerous other countries in school, judicial or military contexts.

Use in schools

The frequency and severity of canings in educational settings have varied greatly, often being determined by the written rules or unwritten traditions of the school. The western educational use of the cane dates principally to the late nineteenth century, gradually replacing birching - effective only if applied to the bare bottom - with a form of punishment more suited to contemporary sensibilities, once it had been discovered that a flexible rattan cane can provide the offender with a substantial degree of pain even when delivered through a layer of clothing.

Caning as a school punishment is strongly associated in the English-speaking world with England, but in fact it was also used in other European countries in earlier times, notably Scandinavia, Germany and the countries of the former Austrian empire.

In some schools corporal punishment was administered solely by the headmaster, while in others the task was delegated to other teachers. In many English and Commonwealth private schools, authority to punish was also traditionally given to certain senior students (often called prefects). By the late 20th century, however, it was extremely rare in the UK for any student to be given the authority to administer corporal punishment.

In many secondary schools in England and Wales it was in use, mostly for boys, until 1987, while elsewhere other implements prevailed, such as the Scottish tawse. In this setting the cane was generally administered in a formal ceremony to the seat of the trousers, typically with the student bending over a desk or chair. Usually there was a maximum of six strokes (known as "six of the best"). Such a caning would typically leave the offender with uncomfortable weals and bruises lasting for several days after the immediate intense pain had worn off.

Schoolgirls were caned much more rarely than boys, and if the punishment was given by a male teacher, nearly always on the palm of the hand. Rarely, girls were caned on the clothed bottom, in which case the punishment would probably be applied by a female teacher.

Caning as a school punishment for boys is still routine in a number of formerly British territories including Singapore,[1] Malaysia and Zimbabwe. Until recently it had also been common in Australia (now banned in public schools; not entirely abolished in all private schools),[2] New Zealand (banned from 1990)[3] and South Africa (banned in public and private schools alike from 1996).[4]

A picture showing the marks left on a student's hand after a caning

In Malaysia, although the Education Ordinance 1957 specifically outlaws the caning of girls in school,[5] the caning of girls, usually on the palm of the hand, is still rather common, especially in primary schools but also occasionally in secondary schools.[6][7][8][9] In November 2007, in response to a perceived increase in indiscipline among female students, the National Seminar on Education Regulations (Student Discipline) passed a resolution recommending allowing the caning of female students at school.[10] The resolution is currently in its consultation process.

The cane was also used more or less frequently on boy inmates at the British youth reformatories known from 1933 to 1970 as Approved Schools, and rarely for girls in such schools. In Approved schools the cane was applied to the buttocks for boys and to the hands for girls, but after Approved Schools became "Community Homes with Education" under the Children and Young Persons Act 1969,[11] girls could be caned on the buttocks.[12] Caning is still used in the equivalent institutions in some countries, such as Singapore.

Judicial use

A display of rattan judicial canes from the Johor Bahru Prison museum, Malaysia.

Judicial caning, administered with a long, heavy rattan and generally much more severe than the canings given in schools, was/is a feature of some British colonial judicial systems, even though the cane was never used judicially in Britain itself (the specified implements there, until abolition in 1948, being the birch and the cat-o'-nine-tails). In some countries caning is still in use in the post-independence era, particularly in Southeast Asia (where it is now being used far more than it was under British rule), and in some African countries. The practice is retained, for male offenders only, under the criminal law in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei.[13] (In Malaysia there is also a separate system of religious courts, which can order a much milder form of caning for women as well as men.) Caning in Indonesia is a recent introduction, in the special case of Aceh, on Sumatra, which since its 2005 autonomy has introduced a form of sharia law for Muslims only (male or female), applying the cane to the clothed upper back of the offender.[14]

African countries still using judicial caning include Botswana, Tanzania, Nigeria and, for juvenile offenders, Swaziland and Zimbabwe. Other countries that used it until the late 20th century, generally only for male offenders, included Kenya, Uganda and South Africa, while some Caribbean countries such as Trinidad and Tobago use birching, another punishment in the British tradition, involving the use of a bundle of branches, not a single cane.

In Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei, healthy males under 50 years of age can be sentenced to a maximum of 24 strokes of the rotan (rattan) cane on the bare buttocks; the punishment is mandatory for many offences, mostly violent or drug crimes, but also immigration violations, sexual offences and (in Singapore) acts of vandalism. It is also imposed for certain breaches of prison rules. The punishment is applied to foreigners and locals alike.

Two examples of the caning of foreigners which received worldwide media scrutiny are the canings in Singapore in 1994 of Michael P. Fay, an American student who had vandalised several automobiles, and in the United Arab Emirates in 1996 of Sarah Balabagan, a Filipina maid convicted of homicide.

Caning is also used in the Singapore military, especially to discipline recalcitrant young conscripts. Unlike judicial caning, this punishment is delivered to the soldier's clothed buttocks. See Caning in Singapore#Military caning.

Voluntary use

Caning may also be a part of consensual sadomasochistic activities between adults. In nineteenth-century France it was dubbed "The English Vice", probably because of its widespread use in British schools.[15]

Cane types and terminology

Canes can be manufactured for disciplinary purpose in different sizes and weights, determining the potential severity of the punishment. The main types are sometimes known by the age groups of the intended recipients, especially in the domestic context:

'Light' canes (about 8 mm in diameter and 60 cm long, according to some sources) are called junior canes, normally considered sufficient to punish young school children (except sometimes for the gravest offences), and hence also known as school cane. However, in America, where the paddle took the place of the cane for discipline, the name junior cane was rather given to a ceremonial walking stick students parade with.

These terms are commonly used with reference to canes and caning:

  • The term nursery cane or junior cane is sometimes used for the lightest cane, as it would be used for children under school age
  • The senior cane is a heavier type (about 10 mm thick, 75-80 cm long) than the junior cane and is frequently used for older children (or except for the lightest offences); maybe synonymous is the adult cane.
  • The reformatory cane was reserved for the worst, '(otherwise) incorrigible' juveniles. About 12 mm thick and 90-120 cm long, it was often reserved for older inmates and was used in severe cases; a similar term is Borstal cane[citation needed] (mistakenly named after the Borstal, a Commonwealth type of reformatory; in fact caning was never officially a permitted punishment in borstals).
  • The Singapore cane, used in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei for the judicial and prison punishment of adult criminals, is half an inch in diameter and 4 ft (1.2 m) long, and can cause deep wounds and permanent scars if a large number of strokes is inflicted in the manner that is used there.

The different varieties of rattan used are sometimes preferred because of their intrinsic severity. Of these, the common kooboo is considered lighter (if the same size) than the denser Dragon Canes; other common types bear geographical names such as Malacca (a peninsular Malaysian state) and Palembang (a city on Sumatra, Indonesia). These esoteric distinctions may be of interest to connoisseurs, but they are not something the average schoolmaster would have been concerned with.

In some spheres the cane, which is typically used by a certain disciplinarian, might be called after him. Thus in the Royal Navy the bosun's cane was frequently used on the backsides of boys without ceremony (as opposed to publicly 'kissing the gunner's daughter', a formal bare-bottom flogging on deck ordered by the captain or a court martial, usually involving birch or cat o' nine tails) on the spot or in the gun room, for daily offences considered too insignificant to require written formalities or orders from an officer (who could and routinely also did order the cane; actually wielding it was considered unsuitable for a gentleman), but more severe than the bimmy. The cane in the hands of a corporal (especially of the Marines on board many fighting ships, often ordered to carry out formal punishment of crew members as well) was called a stonnacky. In an attempt to standardize the canes (but the effective wielding is impossible to capture in written rules) the Admiralty had specimens according to all prevailing prescriptions, called patterned cane (and birch), kept in every major dockyard.

Contrary to myth, bamboo is unsuitable, as it is too brittle and rigid, and easily breaks and cuts the flesh.

While the rattan never caught on in North America (except in one or two isolated cases such as Boston public schools), the rather equivalent hickory stick (made from the native hickory tree) was also once a frequent implement for school discipline, but like the freshly cut, flexible switch and other alternatives it gave way in the US almost exclusively (where corporal punishment persists at all) to paddling with a flat wooden implement.


Caning with a heavy judicial rattan of the Singapore/Malaysia kind can leave scars for years, at any rate where a large number of strokes are inflicted. However, this should not be confused with an ordinary caning with a typical light rattan (as formerly in English schools), which, although painful at the time, would leave only superficial welts and bruises lasting a few days.

See also


  1. ^ See Singapore school handbooks at World Corporal Punishment Research.
  2. ^ Country files - Australia: School CP at World Corporal Punishment Research.
  3. ^ Education Act, 1989. New Zealand State Report at GITEACPOC.
  4. ^ "Assembly passes new schools bill", Cape Times, 30 October 1996.
  5. ^ Kementerian Pendidikan Malaysia 2003. Surat Pekeliling Iktisas Bil 7:2003 - Kuasa Guru Merotan Murid. Retrieved 4 June 2007. (Malay)
  6. ^ Uda Nagu, Suzieana. "Spare the rod?", New Straits Times, Kuala Lumpur, 21 March 2004.
  7. ^ Chin, V.K. "Caning of schoolgirls is nothing new", The Star, Kuala Lumpur, 4 December 2007.
  8. ^ Lau Lee Sze, "Girls should be caned too but do it right", The Star, Kuala Lumpur, 29 November 2007.
  9. ^ Chew, Victor. "Use the cane only as a last resort, teachers", The Star, Kuala Lumpur, 26 July 2008.
  10. ^ Chew, Sarah. "Education seminar passes resolution to cane female students", The Star, Kuala Lumpur, 28 November 2007.
  11. ^ Langan, Mary. Welfare: needs, rights, and risks, Routledge, London, 1998. ISBN 978-0-415-18128-0
  12. ^ Healy, Pat. "Caning of girls 'worse than in last century'", The Times, London, 20 May 1981.
  13. ^ Judicial caning in Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei at World Corporal Punishment Research.
  14. ^ Afrida, Nani. "Public canings to start in Aceh for gamblers", The Jakarta Post, 23 June 2005.
  15. ^ Gibson, Ian. The English vice: Beating, sex, and shame in Victorian England and after, Duckworth, London, 1978. ISBN 0715612646


  • Hardy, Janet (2004). The Toybag Guide to Canes and Caning (Toybag Guide). San Francisco: Greenery Press. ISBN 1890159565. 

External links

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