Michael Abrahams | Corporal punishment reasoning
Last week in Parliament, Prime Minister Andrew Holness expressed his intention to ban corporal punishment (physical punishment intended to cause physical pain) of children in Jamaica. Unfortunately, punishing children by hitting them is a...
Last week in Parliament, Prime Minister Andrew Holness expressed his intention to ban corporal punishment (physical punishment intended to cause physical pain) of children in Jamaica. Unfortunately, punishing children by hitting them is a sociocultural norm in this country, and many of us have been the recipients of beatings. The practice has become so entrenched that it is difficult to convince some Jamaicans that it is not in the best interest of our children.
However, if we truly desire what is best for our children and our country, we must step away from our personal situations, adopt a dispassionate attitude, and view the topic objectively and with a hunger for the truth. If we do this, we will see that beating children is not only not the best form of discipline, but a mode of punishment whose risks outweigh its benefits. We must humble ourselves enough to understand and respect the value of research, evidence, data, and facts, even if they do not align with our narratives and beliefs. And we should be rational and honest with our thinking.
For example, I have heard many people say that they were beaten as children, and they ‘turned out okay’. If they are okay, good for them. However, as Jamaicans would say, “Puss an dawg nuh have di same luck.” What works for some people may not work for others. If you were beaten and you are okay, maybe your beatings were not often and severe; maybe you had other adults, apart from the ones who beat you, who were buffers; maybe your genetic make-up made you more resilient; maybe your caregivers were loving and not as angry and dysfunctional as some others who resorted to beating children. The data do not say that if you were beaten you will grow up to be a basket case. What it has shown is that there is an association between corporal punishment and long-term psychological dysfunction. There is a difference.
KEPT OUT OF TROUBLE
Some people say that being beaten kept them out of trouble. But there are many who were not beaten and kept themselves out of trouble, and many who were beaten and got into serious trouble. In fact, research has found that every prisoner behind bars for murder in this country received corporal punishment as a child. Also, even if something worked for you, and overwhelming research has found a better way, why not use it for your children?
There is also a fact that may be difficult for many to accept, and it is that you may think you are okay when in fact you are not. Many of us have undiagnosed mental disorders, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), ADHD (attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder), and anger management and other issues, and do not realise that something is wrong. The incidence of mental illness in our society is higher than many of us know, and childhood trauma, including being beaten, is not an uncommon contributing factor.
Many of us do not see striking a child repeatedly as abuse, but it is. If an employer uses a belt to beat an employee who has committed a transgression, he or she could rightfully be arrested, charged, and convicted for assault. If someone flogs their spouse, the act is classified as domestic violence, which is a criminal offence. Beating inmates, convicted criminals, in our prisons has been outlawed. So, there is no rational reason to condone adults beating children, the most vulnerable among us.
RAISED WITH DISCIPLINE
There is also a perception that in moving to ban corporal punishment we are ‘following America’, where the practice has been banned and children are ‘spoilt’. This is not so. First, not beating children does not mean spoiling them. Children should be raised with discipline, but there are many other methods that can be employed and have been shown to be effective. Second, this is not an ‘American’ thing. Research has included multiple studies in diverse populations, and the universal consensus is that beating children does more harm than good. Many do not realise that there is a significant body of research from Jamaicans such as Professor Maureen Samms Vaughan, Dr Herbert Gayle and others, whose findings mirror those of their foreign counterparts, and unequivocally demonstrate the correlation between corporal punishment of children and violent behaviour, learning disabilities, mental illness and other dysfunctions.
We need to understand that our penchant for beating is part of the legacy of slavery, where our African forefathers were beaten by their enslavers to keep them in line. Indeed, research has shown that societies that have a history of being colonised and enslaved tend to resort to beating their children more than societies that do not share that history.
We also need to be open-minded enough to objectively scrutinise the theology behind the oft-quoted Bible verse regarding “sparing the rod” and understand that the context in which it was written was more likely of a rod being used to guide, as shepherds use rods to guide their sheep, rather than to strike them and inflict pain.
The prime minister’s intention to ban corporal punishment is a step in the right direction. In this regard, honest and fact-based national discourse would be in our best interest. We all need to be on the same page with this and not allow partisan politics, sociocultural bias, and fundamentalist religious beliefs to be barriers to our progress.