Caning is a physical punishment (see that article for generalities and alternatives) consisting of a beating with a cane, generally applied on the bare or clad buttocks (see spanking), shoulders, hand(s) (palm, rarely knuckles) or even the soles of the feet (see falaka).
Scope of use
It was a common form of punishment in many parts of Middle East & Africa, Asia and Europe and several European colonies in the nineteenth and early twentieth century, but has now been banned in most countries. It is often considered a cruel, inhumane and degrading punishment as meant by the United Nations Convention Against Torture, but remains legal in numerous nations.
Caning was practiced as a judicial punishment for juveniles but was best known as a method of educational discipline in schools or at home. The western use of the cane dates principally to the late nineteenth century, when educationalists sought to replace birching - which is only effective if applied to the bare flesh - with a form of punishment more suitable to contemporary sensibilities. The cane, if applied expertly, transmits much pain even through layers of clothing.
Judicial caning, carried out with a long rattan or birch rod and was generally much more severe than the canings given in schools, was a feature of some colonial judicial systems, and in some cases still is post-independence, particularly in East Asia and some African countries.
In Singapore, 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 over 30 offenses, mostly violent or sexual crimes, but also some immigration violations, drug violations and acts of vandalism. It is also imposed for certain breaches of prison rules. Female criminals may also be caned in prison according to "prison act".
Educational use in home and school context
The frequency and severity of canings in educational settings are often determined by the written rules or unwritten traditions of the school. For example, in some schools corporal punishment was administered solely by the head teacher, but in many English and Commonwealth private schools authority to punish was also given to certain senior students (often called prefects). A typical punishment in an English elementary school in the late nineteenth or early twentieth century consisted of one or two strokes on the hand. In many secondary schools in England and Wales it was in use, mainly for boys and only very rarely for girls, until the early 1980s. In this setting it was more often administered to the clothed buttocks, usually with a maximum of six "swats" (known as "six of the best"). Such a caning often left a student with severe welts making it painful to sit down for days or even weeks after the caning.
Caning is also a more severe but not uncommon sadomasochistic practice. In nineteenth century France the practice was dubbed "Le vice Anglais" ("The English Vice"), as it was believed that the English, in particular, derived sexual pleasure from corporal punishment, probably because of its widespread use in British schools. This term is still in occasional use.
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 often known by the age groups of intended victims, 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 offenses), 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:
- Nursery cane
- is sometimes used for even lighter canes, as it would be used for children under school age
- 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 offenses); maybe synonymous is the adult cane.
- Reformatory cane
- was reserved for the worst, '(otherwise) incorrigible' juveniles. About 12 mm thick and 36-48 inch long, this cane was often reserved for older boys and was used in severe cases; a similar term is Borstal cane (after the Borstall, a Commonwealth type of reformatory).
- Singapore cane
- used in Malaysia, Singapore and Brunei for the judicial and prison punishment of adult criminals, is 15 mm in diameter and at about 1.2 m long, and can easily cause severe wounds and leave permanent scars on the recipient.
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: Malacca is Malaysia's continental peninsula, Palambang a city on Sumatra.
For misbehaving children in Asia, most parents use a wooden ruler or the handle end of a feather duster, which is usually made of narrow bamboo-like material.
In some spheres the cane, which is typically used by a certain disciplinarian, is commonly 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 offenses (at least one mid 19th-century captain had every single junior boy given six cane strokes every morning on various pretexts considered too insignificant to require written formalities or orders from an officer (who certainly 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 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.
In ancient China, suspects or criminals were often caned, as punishment of interrogation, with large sticks or planks the size of an oar suited for today's small sailing boats. The offender usually bleeds from the wound at the buttocks, and can get infections if not treated instantly. The offenders will almost certainly have to spend days in bed.
- Other, even lighter types of cane (e.g. as used for plant care) can also be used for physical discipline, especially in fetishist and BDSM circles; in fact the term caning is also used, sometimes even in stead of an existing specific term, for corporal punishment with an else-named but similar device, such as a pointing stick or ruler, especially if made of wood.
- While the rattan never caught on in North America, the rather equivalent hickory stick (made from the native hickory tree) has also been a frequent, feared implement for school discipline, but like the freshly cut, flexble switch and other alternatives it gave way in the US almost exclusively (that is where corporal punishment persists or reemerges) to paddling with a flat wooden implement, while in Canada the strap was most used for severe physical discipline except in some private schools where even coils of electrical wiring or the broken handles of ice hockey sticks were sometimes used to beat students.
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