Destroy the rod: Corporal punishment is a form of domestic violence
However you try to justify it, it is not okay to hurt a child just because they have 'misbehaved'
I recently attended a workshop on domestic violence, and nearly fell headfirst into the massive chasm that sits between what so many people think of domestic violence, compared with what they think of corporal punishment carried out on children. The question I would like to pose to those parents is this: Does it hurt a child any less when the beating they receive has been in response to their “bad behaviour”?
What also alarmed me was how many of the adults in the workshop had experienced corporal punishment as a child, and detailed how humiliated it had made them feel (over and above the physical pain of it) and yet, decades later, still believed it was a worthy way in which to discipline, punish or control a child.
Then, earlier this week, the Children’s Institute brought out its priceless report entitled Child Gauge 2018 which looks at a variety of indicators by which we can measure the current state of children in our country.
I was horrified once again by the facts and statistics relating to violence against children in SA. Detailed in the chapter by Lucy Jamieson, Shanaaz Mathews and Stefanie Röhrs was information that pertained to corporal punishment.
According to the report: “In South Africa, physical punishment in the home affects boys and girls equally. Children were most likely smacked at age three and four – an age where they cannot seek help – yet young adolescents are also vulnerable to physical abuse.”
Imagine that. If children are “most likely smacked at age three and four”, what is it doing to their sense of self, their emotional development, and their understanding of cause and effect? That is also the age at which children are learning how to share and negotiate space and material items with other children, and are also learning how to explore the world a bit more independently of their parents while also hoping their parents are there as a “safety net” when the world becomes difficult. What does it tell them when that safety net might decide to hit them instead of protect them?
I was not hit as a child, but I have been perplexed over the years to meet other people who were hit as children, and how this practice took on so many different forms ranging from the enraged parent who hit in anger, to the controlled parent who cold-bloodedly took out the belt and calmly walked the child into a room, closed the door, and then hurt them. I even recently met a woman (herself now a mother) who said her mother would severely punish her physically in a controlled manner, and then sit reading the bible with her as she sobbed from the pain of being hit. Today, she can barely talk about the anger those memories evoke without seething and crying all over again.
The other information in this chapter which I found disturbing was this: “What is particularly concerning is the severity of violence in South Africa. A large proportion of children who experienced physical punishment report having been beaten with a belt, stick or other hard object which increases the risk of injury.”
How is that different from the forms of physical violence those same parents would say they’re against? Just because a parent believes it is a legitimate part of whatever “criminal justice system” has developed in their household, it doesn’t make it okay to hurt a child just because they have “misbehaved”.
The other point is to do with our broader SA context. Our brutal history has meant that a culture of violence has continued to flourish more than two decades after the fall of apartheid. Parents raising children have a great burden placed on them to break the cycle of violence, and yet, in their own households, they are practising the very opposite. Every bit of research suggests that children who are exposed to violence (including in the form of corporal punishment) are placed at higher risk of “acting out” in ways that can also include violence.
To quote from the Child Gauge: “Although harsher forms of physical punishment are more strongly associated with negative outcomes, even ‘mild’ forms of physical punishment such as spanking can lead to increases in child aggression, delinquent and antisocial behaviour, and have negative effects on child mental health.”
Finally, another key point from this chapter which deserves to be highlighted in red for every member of society: Many children experiencing physical punishment are are also witnessing domestic violence. According to the report: “In addition to high levels of physical punishment, between 25% and 45% of children witness domestic violence including violence against their sibling(s) or their mother by her intimate partner.”
Imagine what that does to a child’s sense of the world, and their perception of “home” which is meant to be the safest place on Earth?
It is time parents who punish their children by hurting their bodies take a deep look at what they’re doing, instead of pointing fingers at households where domestic violence is carried out randomly and not under the “holier than thou” banner of a “legitimate” or “effective” form of punishment.