Orville Taylor | Slap in the face of justice
This might sound like a sick pun, but if my child or any other child is being abused, I am not simply turning the other cheek, or, in the recent controversial case, take it on the Chin. Growing up in the typical lower-class neighbourhoods, too many children were administered sergeant punishment. I have never been a fan of children, or anyone for that matter, being beaten. And given the 'murderation' that some children undergo, corporal is much too low a rank for the level of damage inflicted on the defenceless minor.
Jamaica has a deep history of institutionalised violence dating back to slavery. True, violence is not unique to Jamaicans, and some cultures have accepted physical violence to persons who are in superordinate positions to them. However, regarding the impact of violence on children and the societal repercussions, there is far more research and literature in sociology, social work, and psychology than there is in jurisprudence. Therefore, I am never one to jump to decisions about the welfare of children.
CAREFUL CONSIDERATION NECESSARY
Unless it is a case where a child is in imminent danger and a resolution has to be made immediately, we must slowly masticate all variables before swallowing. Otherwise, the outcome can cause a stink beyond imagination. Copious research points to the beating of children and other social pathologies later in life. My colleagues, Claudette Crawford Brown, whose work has been featured on NBC, as well as Herbert Gayle and child-specialist medical doctors Maureen Samms-Vaughan and Abigail Harrison Kong and myriad academics and practitioners, do not only look at court proceedings and even statutes. They look at real people and back up their conclusions and recommendations with research, data and practice.
We behavioural scientists, having mixed our knowledge of human conduct with research of our peers, almost unanimously discourage the beating of children. There is imposing evidence that beating of children by parents and surrogates is connected to the victim perpetuating the cycle. Violently treated children are more likely to become violent criminals. So spare me the twisted biblical references about sparing the rod and spoiling the child.
Unless they have training in human behavioural sciences. I disqualify pastors and other persons of the cloth from giving counsel on the rearing of children. True, I agree with Proverbs 22:6: "Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old, he will not depart from it." The same book (23:13-14) encourages corporal punishment: "If you strike him with a rod, he will not die. If you strike him with the rod, you will save his soul from Sheol."
The adage and song 'Children learn what they live and children live what they learn' goes to the heart of anthropology, sociology, psychology and social work. In this regard, we understand how delicate a child's mind is.
Something turned my stomach like overnight rice regarding the viral video in which a shopkeeper of Asian descent collared a high-school girl like a dog and slapped her across the face. It was disturbing because there were other adults, including a man to whom the child appealed. The issue is not whether the child had something believed to be wrong. What matters is that there was child abuse and other people did nothing.
By the time the video had circulated, the police had already charged the woman, taken the matter to court, and the judge ordered mediation and disposed of the case. The apparent speed reminds me of Chinese takeout. There is wisdom in mediation, especially when the parties have to live in the same space and there is contriteness and restitution and 'payment' for one's indiscretion. It is commendable that the justice system has space for that, as well as the diversion programmes, given that we do not want to make criminals of persons who are really not.
Fool not yourself, though: children are in a special category. Therefore, when an exasperated mother beat her daughter with the machete, a tool she was skilled in using, the recourse under the law was obvious. The wishes of the child were that her mother be not demonised and, more so, that she not be prosecuted. In fact, the mother could have been well served with a good course of counselling, leading to what would've been a grand mediation between mother and child.
I have read the Child Care and Protection Act and I, given the smattering of law that I have read, cannot find any case where a child has the status in a court to be party to a mediated agreement in a criminal abuse matter. Imagine if it were a case where the child were touched on her uniformed breast by an adult whom she subsequently forgave or had even consented to. Evaluate the impact from a psychological point of view. What do you think affects her and society worse - being touched or being beaten by the stranger in public?
Nonetheless, I will not jump to a conclusion yet; but this is not the last time, I will comment on this matter. So rather than ask for a dismissal, let me seek an adjournment sine die.
- Dr Orville Taylor is senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI, a radio talk-show host, and author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.