Caning was a popular method of corporal punishment in the domestic, school, and judicial contexts in Europe, especially in England, from approximately the mid 19th century to the late 20th century. Rattan canes were imported from British colonies in South and Southeast Asia for this purpose. The strikes with a cane are called "strokes", "lashes" or "cuts", depending on local custom.
Domestic and school caning
In school settings, they are typically applied to the pupil's outstretched hand (hand caning) or the buttocks (usually over clothing, but could sometimes be on the bare). Both boys and girls were subject to canings, but boys typically received the cane considerably more often and harder than girls. Punishment with a cane is generally more painful than with other spanking implements and may lead to severe bruising or bleeding in the most serious cases. As such, when the cane is used for disciplinary spankings in the domestic and school contexts, the number of strokes is generally kept low, typically less than 12, and applied with a moderate amount of force. The most classic type of caning, popularized in England in the 19th and 20th centuries, was known as "six of the best" (six strokes), usually applied to the seat of a schoolboy's trousers or gym shorts as he adopted a bent over posture. In other cultures, canings on the buttocks were also often given in other positions. For example teachers in Germany seem to have favored half-standing and bent-over-object positions which improve stability.
School caning is still practiced in some countries, such as Singapore, where schoolboys who have committed serious offenses (such as fighting, smoking, vandalism and shoplifting) may be caned up to six times (but the number of strokes mostly ranges from one to three) on the seat of their trousers. Depending on the seriousness of the offense, the boys may sometimes be punished in the classroom in front of their classmates or in the school hall in front of the entire school population.
Other countries currently making extensive use of caning in schools include Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, South Korea, Taiwan, Tanzania, Thailand, Vietnam and Zimbabwe.
A lighter cane may be used by parents to discipline children at home, and this practice is popular in some Asian countries.
Judicial and prison caning
Apart from the school and domestic settings, caning was also employed as a means of judicial corporal punishment for male adolescents and adults in many British colonies during the 20th century, though never in Britain itself (where the birch and the cat were the only instruments that could be ordered by the courts).
While many of these countries have abolished this practice after gaining independence, a handful of them - such as Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei in Southeast Asia, and Botswana, Nigeria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe in Africa - still retain judicial caning as a form of legal corporal punishment for male criminals who have committed certain offenses, and as a disciplinary measure in prisons (a male criminal not sentenced to judicial caning in court may still be caned in prison if he breaks certain rules and regulations, such as fighting with other inmates). The offender is tied to an A-frame or caning trestle (depending on the country) and may receive up to a maximum of 24 strokes on the bare buttocks. The rattan cane used is about as thick as an adult man's finger, and is soaked in water before use to make it more flexible and prevent it from splitting. The cane is also treated with antiseptic to prevent infection.
The specially trained prison officer administering the punishment is required by law to use as much force as he can muster. A Malaysian prison officer who administers canings is quoted in a July 2005 Singaporean news report as saying, "Whipping convicts is much more difficult (than administering a Syriah caning) because you have to do it with a lot of 'power'. The harder, the better. If he holds back even one notch, the officer fails in his duty. That's why all whipping officers are tall and big bodied. You have to be very focused because there is a very small area to hit. When you have made contact with the buttocks, you must drag the tip of the rotan along the skin to break it."
One reason as to why judicial caning is so much more severe in its effects than school caning, as suggested on this article on judicial caning in the three Southeast Asian countries on World Corporal Punishment Research, is the technique employed by the caning officer, in addition to the size of the rattan cane and the force with which it is used. This "dragging" technique, as described by the Malaysian prison officer in the report, is meant to deliberately break the skin. This seems rather true, because in the Malaysian caning videos (released in the 2000s by the Malaysian government), the officers are seen "dragging" the tip of the cane along the prisoner's buttocks swiftly immediately after making contact, somewhat like "drawing" a line across the target area with the tip. This is also seen in the caning scene in the Singaporean video Prison Me No Way, where the officer appears to "pull back" the cane almost immediately after hitting the target.
The effects of caning in Malaysia and Singapore are slightly different but both are equally severe as they cause excruciating pain and will usually draw blood and leave scars. The wounds from a Malaysian caning are more concentrated around the middle of the buttocks because the sides and the hips are covered by a torso shield. In Singapore, however, 'wrapping' frequently occurs, as the cane is very flexible and usually 'wraps' around and hits the side of the right buttock near the hip area, which is not protected by any padding. Compare these pictures from Singapore (, ) with these from Malaysia (, , ).
Caning is used as a form of judicial corporal punishment (and at the same time also a religious corporal punishment) in some Islamic countries like Malaysia and Indonesia (only in Aceh state). Apart from their criminal law systems, these countries also have parallel justice systems that follow Sharia law (Islamic law). Under these systems, Muslims (including locals and foreigners) men and women who have committed offenses under Sharia law may be punished by caning. The offender is fully dressed and receives a small number of strokes from a light rattan cane on the back over clothing, delivered by an officer of the same gender as the recipient. The officer is required to exercise restraint, and can only use his/her wrist power without raising the entire arm, so the punishment is a lot less severe than judicial caning. Men stand when they receive the punishment while women are seated. In Indonesia's Aceh state, the punishment is sometimes delivered in public while in Malaysia the caning is done in private. This form of caning is meant to be symbolic and humiliating rather than to inflict pain.
In consensual spanking, caning is harsh relative to a hand spanking or a strapping. Caning is not for the novice spankee/spanker. Caning on the bare buttocks leaves red stripes or weals. Even experienced spankees may need to be restrained. A caning is often given in a setting such as study or a dungeon.
- Janet W. Hardy, The Toybag Guide to Canes and Caning - dedicated to canes, caning techniques, how to make and care for canes, and so on. ISBN 1890159565
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