Editorial

How must Jamaica treat woman beating 12-y-o daughter?

Thursday, October 05, 2017

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The story of a mother beating her 12-year-old daughter, with a machete no less, provides yet again another glorious opportunity to address one of our most grievous cultural practices — corporal punishment.

Indeed, the issue goes well beyond corporal punishment because we are faced with what is apparently a poor woman, with four children, we are told, and with no father in sight, setting in motion the almost certain conditions for continued poverty and all the ills it breeds.

The outrage that has followed exposure of the incident is to be welcome in a country where a terrible beating is often the first recourse in disciplining children. Do we still need more evidence that such violence is the precursor to aggressive behaviour, anger issues, and a callous disregard for life?

Of course, many Jamaicans argue that they were beaten as children when they got out of hand, but that they came to see that the punishment was meant for their own good and they are none the worse for it. No doubt, there is a measure of truth to that.

Yet, we dare not ignore the fact, equally, that some of those beatings left children maimed and scarred for life. Many Jamaicans grew up believing that beating is an appropriate form of punishment, until they migrate and find themselves afoul of the law for beating their own children.

Parents and caregivers need to spend more time exploring other options to beating as a means of disciplining their charges. It might take more time and patience, but it prevents what the 12-year-old girl barely missed — a lifetime injury if the machete had slipped.

We don't believe, though, that the beating is all because the video which exposes this ugly situation shows a woman, bereft of dignity, naked but for underwear, in a yard that hints at squalidness slum and raises the question: Is she raising her children all alone?

There is every indication of the kind of dysfunction that prevails all across our country. It often starts with irresponsible men and women breeding up children whom they either can't, or have no intention to, provide for. Abandoned by the fathers, the mothers are left to fend for themselves and the children under the most abject conditions, including constant hunger. Surely, all that must often lead to mental anguish and illness of the kind that would render a desperate woman, possibly angered by hunger, to rain blows using a machete on her youthful offspring.

The decision by the authorities to remove the abused child is a pre-emptive move that was necessary. But it obviously cannot be seen as the solution. There will never be enough places in State homes to accommodate abused children.

Unfortunately, the solution is long-term. The Programme of Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH) is a critical tool that will partially meet the need to ensure that while the grass is growing the horse is not completely starving.

But we will need, as a country, to invest in educating our people not to have children they cannot afford to mind. Agencies like the National Family Planning Board should never be short of resources. Otherwise, all our other social investments will be penny wise and pound foolish.

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