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Let that corporal punishment debate begin

Monday, December 04, 2017

Seventh - day Adventist pastor Mr Charles Brevitt is correct when he points out that the recent case highlighted on social media of a woman physically and verbally abusing her four-year-old child is not isolated.

To quote Mr Brevitt, “There are many children who are suffering, but the suffering has not been put on social media, so the attention of the nation has not been turned to them.”

The social media aspect, directly related to rapidly advancing communications technology, is, we believe, the crux of the matter. In the parlance of the Jamaica folk culture: “Weh eye nuh see, heart nuh leap.”

So that just as was case when a video circulated weeks ago of a mother savagely beating her 11-year-old daughter with the flat side of a machete, the society never would have known about the abused four-year-old if it wasn't for somebody making the video and circulating same with a cellphone. Such is the nature of evolving communication technologies that the cellphone is, in actual effect, a miniature computer.

Older Jamaicans, if they are honest with themselves, know that child beatings of the sort that have been highlighted in recent times are far less frequent than used to be the case.

Back in the day, adults across Jamaica routinely flogged their children — even those in their late teens — with implements of all sorts, including the flat side of the machete, 'jackass whip', leather belt, and tamarind switch. And when there was no implement immediately to hand, they used the bare hand.

At primary schools children found themselves being mercilessly lashed with leather belts, tamarind switches and rulers not just for alleged bad behaviour, but often because of perceived poor academic performance. At a few traditional high schools, up to a few decades ago, caning as a form of punishment was routine.

Incredibly, even today there are occasional reports of teachers getting into trouble for hitting children, though the Ministry of Education and the Jamaica Teachers' Association have explicitly forbidden the practice.

Of course, not just in Jamaica but in many parts of the world it has been culturally accepted until relatively recently that corporal punishment is a legitimate and indeed a preferred way to discipline children. Hence, the popular saying, that parents should not “spare the rod and spoil the child”.

It's not unusual to hear adults say that they are better people because of beatings — sometimes described as 'murderation' — they received as children. If they believe that, then we can be sure that they, too, are abusing their children.

Yet we know that human beings will put into practice what they learn. And experts are increasingly suggesting that the use of violence as a first resort, so alarmingly prevalent in the Jamaican society, often has roots in the experience of beatings and physical abuse during childhood.

We note that Prime Minister Andrew Holness has repeatedly expressed his abhorrence of child-beating dating back to when he was education minister years ago. He recently argued that the “time has come for the Parliament to have a debate on this issue and finally declare corporal punishment at an end, both within public institutions and as a means of discipline available to parents”. We firmly believe Mr Holness should make it happen.