Columns

The negatives of corporal punishment have outlived slavery

Donovan Watkis

Monday, November 13, 2017

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It is widely believed among Jamaicans, especially those whose ancestors were subject to the heinous effects of the transatlantic slave trade, that corporal punishment is an effective way to steer children in the right direction. The unrecognised trauma, ensuing inequalities, present danger, and systemic societal codes keep the old slave mill going.

It is welcoming news from Prime Minister Andrew Holness that Parliament will debate and hopefully put in place laws that will discontinue this practice in the near future.

There are many parents who will readily admit to hitting their children for any reason ranging from not doing the dishes to leaving the house without permission. I understand that changing culture is slow and painful for many.

It is the duty of parents to encourage greatness in their children, so how may we do this if parents and teachers lack radical empathy and show this by hitting their child whenever they step outside of the imaginary lines.

The whole history of Jamaica is the history of the powerful beating down of the powerless, and if the powerless become powerful they do the same thing in a never-ending cycle of insecurity, mental, economic, and spiritual disparity between the haves and the have-nots.

Over the years I have observed many otherwise well-thinking people excusing the practice of corporal punishment to fit their irrational need to hit another human being. I have made it clear to my children that no one should ever physically discipline them in school or at home. This is the norm in many forward-thinking families and cultures.

I have been frowned upon by many family members for sticking to this practice. I was even told that I got some beating and look how I turned out. As if to say it is a quality within beating a child that helps to develop cognition and raise healthy, well rounded children in mind, body, and soul. What a farce.

Working class Jamaican parents are often willing to allow teachers to hit their children, and it may be political suicide for a politician to advocate for the abandonment of this wicked practice against children. However, it is the right thing to do, Holness.

The concern that if Jamaican parents don't find a way to break the exuberance of their children they will become a threat to society and the law has absolutely no basis or correlation. It is a mere artificial cultural creation based on superstitious beliefs and the dysfunctions of colonialism.

There is a certain kind of privilege among children who grow up within the realms of an educated and progressive home, where parents don't believe that in order to avoid the police correcting their child later on life, they must do it first. They grow well read, highly spiritual children who grow to become knowledgeable, wise, strong, and less insecure without the fictional need for beating.

I want to make it clear that the mentality that justifies the execution of physical force of any kind on a child is the same mentality that justified the beating of black people, including adults and children, by the white slave masters in colonial era Jamaica. The parents of slaves would beat their children hard, so that the slave masters or slave patrol would not do it worse. The reality of that was that the slave master did not need an excuse to hit the slaves, so they did so regardless of how many times their slave parents would hit them.

The same applies to modern Jamaica, because there has been no amount of beating that has stopped or slowed down the incarceration levels and murder of Jamaican children by those with power. In fact, judging by a recent video of a mother beating her child with a machete, some parents may be psychologically and physically killing their children through severe corporal punishment. In addition to correction, there is much anger passed down to children during the beating process because the discipline is coming from an angry and fearful place.

Some children have lifelong physical scars, but more detrimental are the psychological scars. Humans are creatures of memory, and it takes much mental strength for an adult to remove from his/her psyche the effects of corporal punishment they received as a child. No human being should have to deal with that among life's other problems.

Children beaten are inadvertently being told that their bodies do not belong to them, which results in children with low self-esteem. Children with low self-esteem will not express their highest selves and develop learning deficiencies. Then they become low-level contributors to the society who can only offer cheap labour for corporations, or worse — no skill or certification at all. Their cheap labour gets them low pay, so they can only afford to live in cheap neighbourhoods and continue the cycle of corporal punishment out of frustration as well as low spiritual and educational development. This is a pain of no ordinary measure: To self induce such heinous flaws within the culture of the Jamaican people.

It would seem foreign to most Jamaicans that there is a free-thinking, functional and well adjusted child who did not get any blows while growing up. A child who learns that it is out of love that their parents beat them, retains the message of pain and love as one in their brain. The result of that is a society in which other kinds of violence become the norm.

Make no mistake about it, violence begets violence, and even if corporal punishment works for the desired ends, there are alternative and more humane ways to keep Jamaican children out of trouble and develop adults who will become great contributors to society.

Donovan Watkis is the co-creator of the No Violence In Love campaign. Send comments to the Observer or noviolenceinlove@gmail.com.

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