Abuse - knowing the signs
"Please don't let them hurt your children
We need shelter from the storm
Please don't let them hurt your children
Won't you keep them safe and warm"
- Baby Sharon
Strike up a conversation about child abuse in Jamaica and you'll surely hear various opinions on what exactly it is.
Some parents believe that they have the right to discipline their charges in whatever way they see fit. If that means slapping them around in the process, so be it.
Of course, there are others who use the precedence set by their own parents in disciplining them, backed up by biblical reference justifying the mode of punishment administered.
One father told Family and Religion: "Boys are different. You have to give them big licks to keep them in line!" He justified his view by mentioning the many hard, brutal blows he himself had received as a child, acknowledging that those hits made him into the well-behaved man he is today.
For insight on the issue, Family and Religion reached out to Dr Patrice Charles, founder and CEO of the Phoenix Counselling Centre, who, before tackling the problem, offered a clear definition on what child abuse is.
"Child abuse is when a parent or caregiver, whether through action or failing to act, causes injury, death, emotional harm or risk of serious harm to a child. There are many forms of child abuse, including neglect, physical abuse, sexual abuse, exploitation and emotional abuse," she shared.
Charles, citing some cases of child abuse, said a lot has already been highlighted in the media, especially social media.
"I remember a particular case of a mother using a knife to slap her son on his tongue, because he lied to her; and also a father who stripped and tied his son to a pole and beat him with a belt until the belt broke, because he wasn't doing well in school," said Charles, pointing out that there should be zero tolerance of child abuse.
"Not only from parents and guardians, but also from teachers and members of the community. If you know of a child being abused, adults need to report it. An intervention has to be done," said Charles.
In dealing with the issue, Charles recommends that parents participate in awareness programmes, as, she said, they need to be made aware of the different types of abuse and how it is that their actions can become abusive.
"Parents should be mindful as to how they regulate their emotions and identify their stress triggers in order to prevent taking out their frustration on their children," she said.
She also called on neighbours who hear the screams, and the teachers who see the child coming to school bruised, to be more inquisitive by asking questions and then reporting it to the relevant authorities.
For parents who insist on "not sparing the rod and spoiling the child", Charles cautioned them to ensure that they are 'beating' and not 'beating up'.
"The term 'discipline' refers to a system of nurturing that prepares children to achieve competence, self-control, self-direction and caring for others. To help a child transition into adulthood, an effective disciplinary system should not only provide the child with a learning environment characterised by a supportive parent-child relationship, but also one that teaches appropriate behaviour while eliminating undesired ones," she said.
Pointing out that corporal punishment is using physical force with intent of causing pain, but not injury for the purpose of correcting or controlling the child's behaviour, she said if that child is beaten continuously, and to a point where they suffer from bruises, broken bones or laceration, it is no longer discipline, it's abuse.
It is for this reason that she questions the line between corporal punishment and physical abuse.
"I don't believe that children should be physically hurt by beating them in order to impart discipline. Some parents believe that physical discipline, such as hitting, is for the child's own good. Children are dependent on their parents for love and care - they don't deserve to be punished by physical discipline," said Charles.
When it comes to toddlers who are less than 12 months of age, who don't have the intellectual maturity to understand physical discipline, Charles said hitting will only frighten them or cause serious and permanent injuries. By using physical discipline, she said you may be teaching them that the acceptable way to resolve conflict is by using violence.
"Some parents may also lash out at their child when angry or stressed. This is particularly dangerous, as parents may not recognise their own strength and can cause their child a lot of pain and injury," said Charles.