Tue | Jan 15, 2019

Michael Abrahams | Stop beating the hell out of children

Published:Monday | October 9, 2017 | 12:06 AM

The now-infamous video of a woman mercilessly beating her daughter with a machete has reignited the debate regarding corporal punishment.

The footage shows the woman, attired in only a panty, repeatedly hitting the child with the side of the instrument’s blade, while cursing and swearing vociferously at her. A one point, a dog attempted to intervene, but was also struck by the garden tool-turned-weapon, and found it necessary to beat a hasty retreat. The child eventually managed to escape and flee to safety.

For me, the video was difficult to watch. The blows delivered to the 12-year-old were robust and, not knowing how the video would end, I feared that the child would be chopped or have one of her limbs amputated.

Some of my fellow Jamaicans found the attack to be so violent that they were unable to watch it to completion, while several were brought to tears. There were others who, while not condoning the woman’s actions, noted that what they witnessed was a frustrated mother, at the end of her tether, who snapped.

What was distressing, however, was the fact that many who watched the video saw absolutely nothing wrong with what had transpired, with some even praising the aggressor for being a “good mother”.

Those reactions only serve to reinforce how violent and cruel our society has become. It is NEVER okay to beat a child with a machete.

Some people are upset that the mother was held by the police. But why not? Hitting someone repeatedly with a machete is assault, and if the person on the receiving end is a minor, it is child abuse. It is as simple as that.

If the woman were assaulted by a man and given a proper hiding with a machete, there are few among us who would not support the man being arrested and charged. Because the victim is the woman’s child is no excuse.

Our children are not simply possessions like rag dolls to be tossed around and manhandled as we please. Like us, they also have rights. Investigations revealed that the video was recorded last year. But having seen the video, authorities had no choice but to look into the matter. The woman was released after two days and is no longer being detained.

What is also disquieting is how the beating was captured. An older relative admitted to recording the attack on a cell phone, and subsequently using the video to tease the victim. The fact that this could be seen as entertainment, especially by someone sharing DNA with the child, demonstrates how desensitised some of us have become to violence.

Although I condemn the attack on the child, and agree that there must be consequences for such an egregious assault, I refuse to join others who vilify and demonise the mother and assign degrading names to her. What we saw was only a few seconds of a relationship that has been in progress for over 12 years. The act was violent, but that does not necessarily make her evil.

Children are a blessing, but they can seriously test your patience, and if you are a highly stressed single parent with multiple children and limited financial resources, the risk of becoming unhinged with a disobedient child is can be significantly increased.

Rather than unloading all our wrath on the mother, we must be honest and acknowledge that we are socialised in a culture of violence. For many of us, it is the go-to technique utilised for punishment, conflict resolution, and ensuring compliance, especially when dealing with children. But it ought not to be.

The ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ principle is seriously flawed, and must be rejected. Studies undertaken by psychiatrists, sociologists and paediatricians consistently reveal that the negative effects of beating children outweigh any potential benefits. Hitting children may cauterise undesirable behaviour temporarily, but the use of corporal punishment is associated, long term, with low self-esteem, aggression, depression, anxiety and other deleterious sequelae, which can adversely affect the lives of the recipients.

Our populace must be properly educated about the negative effects that beatings have on children and on our society. Just because it has been normalised in our culture, and many of us have endured it, does not make it acceptable.

- Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, comedian and poet. Email feedback to columns@gleanerjm.com and michabe_1999@hotmail.com, or tweet @mikeyabrahams.