More than 200,000 children were hit as punishment in US schools last year and in the South more blacks than whites are struck, two human rights groups said in a report released earlier this week.

Texas accounted for a quarter of the instances of corporal punishment in the 2006-2007 school year, according to the study compiled by Rights Watch and the American Civil Liberties Union.

The report, titled A Violent Education: Corporal Punishment of Children in US Public Schools, plays into a debate in America about the effectiveness of corporal punishment and its role in the classroom and home.

Twenty-one US states still permit the use of corporal punishment in schools. In Texas and Mississippi children as young as three are struck for transgressions as minor as gum chewing, the report says.

The punishment often involves hitting a child on the buttocks with a long wooden board, or paddle.

In 13 states in the US South where corporal punishment is the most prevalent, African-American girls are twice as likely to be hit as their white counterparts, according to the 125-page report.

"African-American students are punished at 1.4 times the rate that would be expected given their numbers in the student population," the groups said in a statement. Citing US Department of Education data, the report said 223,190 students nationwide received corporal punishment at least once in the 2006-2007 school year. This included 49,197 students in Texas, the largest number of any state.

Minority students already face several barriers to success, said Alice Farmer, the report's author.

"By exposing these children to disproportionate rates of corporal punishment, schools create a hostile environment in which these students may struggle even more," Ms Farmer said.

Some US conservatives view moves to ban corporal punishment in school and spanking at home as "liberal permissiveness" which can lead to bad behaviour and wider social problems such as juvenile delinquency.

Many liberal groups regard corporal punishment as a barbaric relic of an unenlightened past that harms self-esteem and promotes violence.

"Every public school needs effective methods of discipline but beating kids teaches vio-lence and it doesn't stop bad behaviour," Ms Farmer said.

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