At what point, when hitting a child, does it become physical abuse?
Some parents and schoolteachers see no relationship whatsoever between the two.
‘A good smacking,’ some will even argue, ‘won’t do the child any harm.’ (Wait for it...) ‘It didn’t do me any harm’.
I’m of the belief the moment you smack a child (however light) it’s abuse.
There is no difference whatsoever between corporal punishment and abuse and those who think otherwise are deluding themselves. Corporal punishment is a pseudonym for abuse. (Shakespeare enters, stage left: "A rose by any other name would smell as sweet", thus meaning the names of things do not matter, only what things are).
The word ‘discipline’ is camouflage given to the pseudonym to hide its true identify – the sugared coating on the physical poison.
Discipline and corporal punishment are worlds apart. While discipline is good and helpful, corporal punishment is evil and harmful. Some schoolteachers have (literally) got away with murder and horrific child abuse charges claiming their acts of classroom horror had been intended to discipline the child. (Wait for it...) ‘For the child’s good.’
Since when has beating children into a coma, kicking, choking, pinching, confining a child in a room, burning their bodies, verbally abusing them, pulling their hair, pulling their ears, spitting on them, breaking their fingers, breaking their legs, belittling, mocking, embarrassing, swearing, cursing, crushing their pride and robbing their dignity, ever been for their good?
Corporal punishment is repulsive, totally uncivilised behaviour and nothing more than abuse. It doesn’t teach children what’s right from wrong or in any way discipline a child, but promotes violence as the solution to all problems.
Corporal punishment has to end in schools and homes or the nation is sowing the seeds of a heartless, uncaring, inhuman society infected with apathy, contempt, hate, fear, aggression disrespect, resentment and vengeance – a society akin to hell on earth.
One of the reasons why corporal punishment still persists in schools throughout Bangladesh is because ‘schoolteachers’ themselves are not disciplined and, in many cases, are just not good at their job. Many should never have been given their job in the first place, but while the pen is mightier than the sword, the brown envelope is mightier than the chalk.
There is an enormous difference between the idea of discipline and the concept of punishment. Discipline is order and essential to the entire universe. It governs the rotation of the earth, the setting of the sun, the cycle of the moon, our food supply. It calendars the time to sow and the time to reap. The animal kingdom wouldn’t survive without discipline.
The cock crows, hens’ lay eggs, squirrels and birds set out to forage for food to feed their young in a regular disciplined manner. There’s no lying in bed, there are no weekends off. Their every moment is guided by discipline.
Hitting a child doesn’t promote discipline. It only confuses and frightens him; makes him feel unloved, unappreciated, insignificant, worth little, if not totally worthless.
Every time a child is beaten, we need to consider the consequences for ourselves. Corporal punishment is a concern for all of us – like the spread of a communal disease.
The beating of a child might not seem important to us at that moment in time, but with each smack the seeds of hate, violence, resentment, vengeance and disrespect is planted and eventually they strike back. Even a dog if kicked and disrespected will eventually bite back.
You only have to look in the streets during hartals for examples of the worst uncivilized human behaviour you’re ever likely to find anywhere in the world. Were these people born terrorists with such aggression, hate, vengeance and disrespect for their fellowman or is it something they learnt at school?
It’s time for Bangladesh to take a fresh approach to resolving hartals and begin to address the problems where they most likely originate... in the schools.
Schoolteachers cannot discipline if they themselves do not know what discipline is. Three years back eminent Bangladesh High Court justices Md. Imman Ali and Sheikh Hassan Arif outlawed the barbaric practice of corporal punishment declaring it: “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a clear violation of a child’s fundamental right to life, liberty and freedom”.
The law brought hope to millions of school children throughout Bangladesh, but created many outlaws within the teaching fraternity; undisciplined ‘teachers’ who only know how to communicate through violence.
Corporal punishment is serious stuff. It’s linked to cancer, massive school drop-outs, mood and anxiety disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, cardio-vascular disease, arthritis, obesity, wife-beatings, muggings and other social misbehaviour.
Research also show its stress can cause inflammation to cells, tissues and blood vessels and that hitting or even just yelling at children can trigger a significant chain of biological changes that can damage their future health. In turn, this increases the likelihood of tumours, heart conditions and respiratory diseases like asthma and less fatal, but discomforting and irritating allergies, rashes and suchlike.
What parent, who love their children, would want to be an accomplice in their downfall?
Teachers must learn that ‘niceness is priceless’, ‘respect commands respect’ and ‘you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar’. You can’t expect respect, if you don’t give it. The happiest and most productive learning environment is one in which respect and appreciation is shared.
*The writer, Sir Frank Peters, is a human rights advocate, a former newspaper publisher and editor and a loyal foreign friend of Bangladesh.