Corporal punishments continues to be the mainstay of disciplining pre-school children worldwide, despite the fact that physical punishment has been banned in 24 countries since 1979, say US researchers.

Researchers at the University Of North Carolina (UNC) said corporal punishment is still used to discipline nearly 80 percent of preschool children in US even though spanking has come down in the United States since 1975.

Surveys conducted in Brazil, Chile, Egypt, India, the Philippines and the United States found that rates of corporal punishment were dramatically higher in all communities than published rates of official physical abuse in any country, the researchers noted in the upcoming issue Pediatrics.

"The findings are stark. Harsh treatment of children was epidemic in all communities. Our data support the conclusions that maltreatment occurs in all nations," says Dr. Desmond Runyan, professor of social medicine at the UNC.

Mothers with fewer years of education used corporal punishment more often, says the study. Even though, rates of corporal punishment varied widely among communities within the same country, harsh punishment by parents was not less common in countries other than the United States.

It could be actually more common, especially in low- and middle-income countries, according to the study, the findings of which were shared in a press release.

In a similar study led by Dr. Adam J. Zolotor, an assistant professor of family medicine at UNC School of Medicine, it was found that 18 percent fewer children were slapped or spanked by caregivers in 2002 compared to 1975.

While 79 percent of preschoolers were still spanked in 2002, about half the children aged between 8 and 9 were hit with an object like a paddle or switch, says the study reported in the online version of the journal Child Abuse Review.

"Given the weight of evidence that spanking does more harm than good, it is important that parents understand the full range of options for helping to teach their children. A bit of good news is that the decline in the use of harsher forms of punishment is somewhat more impressive," says Zolotor in the UNC news release.