All I want for Christmas is no caning
It is Christmas in just a few days, and I hope Santa Claus hides the rod and other instruments of corporal punishment. What is strange about the debate is that most of the people who claim guidance from the Bible seem to have gone through developmental amnesia.
It is the same hypocrisy that the holier-than-thou prudes demonstrate when they comment on children's 'out-a-orderniss' as they explore their infant sexuality. Nobody remembers that we used to play 'dolly house' during our pre-primary-school years and we knew that boys and girls were physiologically different. And for some of us precocious youngsters, thank God for that subtle but major difference. Therefore, when children are doing 'slackness', we think that it is the devil at work and that these 'nowadays pickney' are so much worse than we were.
Similarly, there are those 'experts' in child behaviour who rely on their memories and extol the benefits of their caning in school, as well as the copious doses of stroking that they received from their parents. Like so many convenient catchphrases attributed to the Holy Book, the maxim, 'spare the rod and spoil the child', is as missing from the Bible as green-coloured skin on an alligator. To find the expression, one needs to go to the 1664 poem written by Samuel Butler. But since some pastors routinely tell us things like the Bible said that in the last days, "children shall be having children" and all that foolishness, we believe, despite the reverend telling lie pon Massa God Word.
However, I must admit that there is biblical basis for corporal punishment. Proverbs 23:13-14 states, "Withhold not correction from the child: for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell" and Proverbs 29:15 says, "The rod and reproof give wisdom: but a child left to himself bringeth his mother to shame."
But if we want to be true to the Old Testament, then let us follow Exodus 21:15, 21:17 and Leviticus 20:9, which prescribe the death penalty for children who curse their parents. Indeed, the lesser crime of disobedience is also punishable by death as determined in Deuteronomy 21:18 - 21:21. So, beat them and kill them and the issue is settled. After all, dead children cannot grow up to become criminals or other sociopaths.
Of course, in a civilised society, we cannot kill our children as the ancient Israelites did, and these Old Testament demagogues even killed the man whose birthday we celebrate in five days simply because he challenged the authority of the patriarchs, the fathers of then Israel.
My challenge, first, to the advocates of corporal punishment is for them to return to their memories and recall the first in the series of blows they received during each episode of castigation. Maybe I am a punk, but I never thought that the Levar Burton character, Kunta Kinte, in Alex Haley's Roots, was heroic. For me, he was plain stupid, because after one strike of the whip on my back, I would have taken on any name Massa was giving me. Doubtless, the message was clear that resisting the power broker would leave me in
The point is, in cases where the child is being beaten, he gets the message after the very first blow, and for a parent to continue raining licks on him is simply torture. More often than not, it is nothing but the frustrated mother, teacher or other misnomered 'caregiver' expressing herself as she pours out punishment, punctuated by aerobic and anaerobic utterances.
Can anyone remember his mother attempting to beat out the DNA of the 'wutliss puppa' and using so much energy that she almost faints from exhaustion, or precipitates her asthma attack, or her pressure rising?
The fact is, a one slap or stroke, if necessary at all with children, is most often more than enough, and in the context of a school, the humiliation that accompanies the caning is a deterrent.
Nonetheless, beating a child to the point of 'murderation', whereby skin is lacerated, limbs are broken and other serious injuries result, is torture. Historically, humans had the right to beat prisoners, slaves, servants, workers, wives and children. Can you imagine, in Jamaica, that it is prohibited for prison officers to beat murder convicts, but it should be acceptable to beat a recalcitrant 10-year-old? People who abuse children are weaklings.
Under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, corporal punishment is banned - and with good reason. Starting with Sweden, with one of the lowest homicide rates in the world, some 48 countries have outlawed the practice.
Countries with institutionalised corporal punishment generally exhibit the highest homicide rates. Locally, University of the West Indies (UWI) Professor Maureen Samms-Vaughan notes that poor children tend to be beaten more often than their middle-class counterparts. Interestingly, boys and girls get beaten equally at home, but in the public and less prestigious schools, boys are whipped much more frequently.
One should recognise that teachers are surrogate mothers and comprise more than 80 per cent females. My other colleague at UWI, Dr Herbert Gayle, notes that the bond between mothers and boys is the strongest social connection. Women are responsible for the emotional well-being of the family. Physical and emotional abuse comes from myriad sources, but Mama is expected to give emotional repair. Thus, when the mother is primary torturer, the results are disastrous. Studying 186 mass murderers (multiple killers), including 120 Jamaicans, Gayle discovered that the most savage of killers who breach the natural law of war tended to have been maternally tortured. Of the 17 most ruthless, 12 are Jamaican.
Notably, this torture includes a mother tying up a child, pouring condensed milk or chicken grease on him, and leaving him to be bitten by ants. Other incidents include rubbing faeces in his face, burning with hot iron, and breaking of fingers.
Yet, there is a profile of the mother who does this abuse and torture. She tends to have been raped, usually by uncles or close relatives, have a dead-beat or missing spouse, and little familial support. Sometimes a violent break-up precipitates the abuse as well.
What we need is a holistic understanding of the link between all types of beatings and our social pathologies, including the behaviour of our politicians. And no, I do not support a caning for young Member of Parliament Dwayne Vaz, or even the petulant Everald Warmington.
- Dr Orville Taylor, senior lecturer in sociology at the UWI and a radio talk-show host, is the author of 'Broken Promises, Hearts and Pockets'. Email feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.