Our society must awaken to the reality of child abuse


Tuesday, October 10, 2017

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Jamaica is often referred to as a Christian society. The society's strong Judeo-Christian upbringing and socialisation contribute to many of us being familiar with the Bible verse, Proverbs 13:24: “He who spares his rod hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him promptly.”

By now everyone would have watched or have heard of the video involving a mother dressed only in her underwear beating her pre-teen daughter with a machete. By now, too, you would have come to arrive at some conclusion. For some in the society, the mother should serve time in prison, while for others the mother should be given some counselling as well as parenting sessions.

Apart from the obvious beating seen on the video, thanks to social media we know that there are other underlying factors at play. Historically, there is a sub-culture of a totalitarian approach to discipline as it relates to our children. Our perception of discipline is often skewed, and most times no one comes to the defence of the victim. “A bad di pickney bad” is alarmingly the sentiment many of us have towards instances which clearly are cases of child abuse.

It is commonplace for many parents to beat a child with the first object that is closest to them, this is especially so for rural areas. Another cultural factor which contributes greatly to our children being abused is the culture of silence which has become almost a badge of honour in many communities. Most disturbing is the allegation that the person who made the video is a family member.

Regrettably, as a society there is hardly any line of demarcation as it relates to disciplining a child and child abuse. The abuses many parents inflict on their children in the name of discipline have become culturally acceptable in many quarters and this has allowed many instances of child abuse to go unnoticed and unreported.

Culturally, there is a widely held belief that parents cannot grow a child up without applying some form of corporal punishment. Indeed, it is from Proverbs again, this time chapter 23: 13, from which I draw reference, “Withhold not correction from the child, for if thou beatest him with the rod, he shall not die.” That, undoubtedly, many Jamaicans take their cue as they try to curb maladaptive behaviours in their children.

The condemnation and outrage of the mother was swift and, perhaps, rightly so. However, we need to also spend some time interrogating the social factors which clearly have contributed to the level of frustration in which a mother would resort to beating her own child with a machete. Such factors include a society of absent fathers, high levels of poverty, teenage pregnancy, unemployment, and inadequate State support for the most vulnerable in the society.

Poverty has become a feature of many Jamaican families as more and more families struggle to provide even the basic needs of the household. According to the World Bank, Jamaica is an upper-middle-income country but is affected by low growth and high public debt. The World Bank added that over the last 30 years real per capita GDP increased at an average of just one per cent per year. Sadly, the gist of all the statistics is that for many Jamaicans poverty is real and is a clear and present danger.

In many of our homes there is an absence of fathers and this 'single-parentness' adds to the levels of frustration that a significant numbers of mothers experience on a daily basis. Regardless of whether one is a parent or not, one can surmise how difficult it is for both parents to raise a child; it is even more challenging for a single parent to do so without the support of a spouse or extended family.

Legislation for the

It bears thought that for too many Jamaicans there is a disconnect between the Child Care & Protection Act and their reality in child rearing and the process of socialisation. Under the Child Care and Protection Act (2004) Section 6 ii, an individual can be fined up to $500,000 or imprisonment not exceeding six months, or both, for failure to report child abuse. However, regardless of this, many adults are complicit in acts of child abuse ,which allows the perpetrators to go unpunished while scaring the child permanently.

Globally, children are protected by the Convention of the Rights of the Child. This convention guarantees minimum standards for the protection of children against discrimination, protection and abuse. These rights can be broadly classified into three sections. These are:

1. Provision rights, which include the right to receive or have access to a name, nationality, education, health care, rest, care and play for the disabled and orphan.

2. Protection rights, which outline the right to be shielded from harmful acts and practices, for example, the right to be protected from commercial and sexual exploitation.

3. Participation rights: These include the child's right to be heard, for example, freedom of speech and opinion. In spite of popular belief to the contrary, children do have rights, and these rights must be enforced and protected.

The way forward

There is clearly a need for the society to revisit our parenting practices and skills in a society which is arguably a violent place to raise children. The mother featured in the video clearly needs help, not only in her questionable parenting skills, but in practical terms of providing adequately for her children.

The parish of St Thomas is known to be one of the poorest, with little or no major economic activity. This adds a sense of hopelessness and invariably frustration which, disturbingly, many parents act out on their children. The State agencies need to mobilise themselves, agencies such as the Child Development Agency and the Jamaica Social Investment Fund, as they urgently need to assist in community development to address, among other issues, the removal of zinc fence from where the individuals reside. The Church also needs to do some more social outreach programmes in communities such as Bath in St Thomas.

The National Parenting Support Commission also has a huge role to play; not only in this instance but in the wider society, where bad parenting skills have not been exposed on social media but have become embedded and acceptable in many quarters.

Evidently we will be having this conversation for quite a while. Let us not forget the victim; she will clearly require forelonged counselling and psycho social support. A conscious and concerted effort must be made to break the culture and cycle of child abuse. The fact that the incident of the child's abuse was captured on social media means that she will probably become a target for bullying in the future from her peers. As a result, guidance counsellors should be dispatched to her school immediately to sensitise the students about the negative effects of bullying, such as suicidal thoughts. Furthermore, the Education Act must be quickly revised to include a total ban on corporal punishment which is still being administered in some schools.

Perhaps the way forward in this situation is not to imprison the mother. Maybe this incident will be the one to awaken the society's collective responsibility regarding child rearing which, from all indications, has gone dormant. We all need to examine ourselves.

One knee does not bring up a child. — Tanzania Proverb

#socialmedia #parenting #childabuse #poverty #education #family #culture #bullying

Wayne Campbell is an educator and social commentator with an interest in development policies as they affect culture and or gender issues. Send comments to the Observer or, @WayneCamo.




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