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End legalised violence against children, says UWI professor

Published:Sunday | October 29, 2017 | 12:00 AMRyon Jones

Professor of child health and child development at the University of the West Indies, Maureen Samms-Vaughan, is pleading with the Jamaican Government to put a stop to the legalised forms of violence against children by banning corporal punishment.

Children in 53 countries are protected by law from corporal punishment in all settings, including their homes, with Sweden being the first to have outlawed the act in 1979, and Samms-Vaughan believes it is time Jamaica follow suit.

"Any form of violence against an adult is a chargeable offence, and we have stopped beating prisoners, but we are still beating our children," said Samms-Vaughan, who will be presenting findings from the Global Report 2017: Ending Violence in Childhood at Wednesday's launch of UNICEF's report titled A Familiar Face - Violence in the Lives of Children and Adolescents.

"When the Parliament of Sweden made that decision, if they had put it to a public vote, it would not have happened because the society at the time wasn't ready. But now, they don't have the type of situations that we have here where we see severe forms of violence."




Samms-Vaughan, who is also a developmental paediatrician, said she has seen several children who have suffered corporal punishment because they have an undiagnosed developmental disability. She said it was, therefore, up to the State to put laws in place to protect them.

"I have seen so many children who have been beaten for learning who have autism that has not been diagnosed; children who have learning disabilities that have not been diagnosed," said Samms-Vaughan.

"I said to a little boy in my clinic last week, 'How do you like your new school?' He said to me, 'It is great. Nobody beats me.' He has an intellectual disability and he was being beaten because of that.

"I try to say to teachers, no child wants to perform poorly at school. So when a child is performing poorly, there has got to be a reason."

According to Samms-Vaughn, more than 90 per cent of Jamaican children experience more than one form of violence, with it having a greater effect on boys who are more likely than girls to display disruptive behaviour.

"There is, however, no different response in education; for both of them, their education is affected," Samms-Vaughn pointed out. "The education is not affected directly; it affects more the brain function, cognition, which means that it is more difficult to treat. You have to get some serious psychological therapy to manage that."

She argued that the problem also has to be addressed in homes, as many children are beaten for things that are a normal part of child development because they are exploring, which is how they learn.

"We have to educate persons on the impact of corporal punishment on children as a form of violence. We also have to help persons to understand the alternatives," said Samms-Vaughn.

"We are not saying children must run wild; children need to be disciplined, but there are mechanisms for discipline that motivate children to perform better. It is so much better to motivate than punish; the rewards are so much greater, and everybody benefits."