Spare the rod, love the child

“What hurts you so much you need to hurt me in order to heal it?” Neal Donald Walsch

A young girl I will call “S” had the kind of fearsome mother who few in our neighbourhood dared to cross.

This was in the conservative early 1980s so you can imagine that a jean wearing and truck-driving single mother of two was out of the ordinary.

Now “S” who was no more than 15 at the time had a boyfriend, like most girls of that age.

Except that hers was a DJ of sorts and this entailed her having to sneak out late at night and things of that nature.

Undeterred by the hail of blows that greeted her in the early hours of the morning, she used to tell us, “My mother doesn’t just hit. She punches but I just shield my face so that I don’t get bruises there.”

There has been a mixed community reaction, ranging from outrage to support since some South African children’s rights groups announced a proposal to ban “spanking” or corporal punishment in the home.

At the forefront is the Children’s Rights Project based at the University of the Western Cape which has the support of the Social Development Department.

The department has stated that any amendments to the Children’s Act in South Africa will be preceded by public consultations due to start in July.

I see this issue as an extension of the “peace in the home” campaign and that of no violence against women and children.

I second the call to ban all forms of corporal punishment in the home in countries where it hasn’t been abolished already.

There may be some parents who can administer a slight slap on the wrist but there are many whose idea of physical punishment crosses that boundary.

I still remember the case of a 16-year-old girl who was beaten to death by her stepfather while the community watched because it was a “domestic matter.”

Banning may inconvenience parents who have to find alternative and positive forms of discipline but if it saves the life of just one child, it will be worth it.

Conventional wisdom and even training in the workplace says that we shouldn’t act out of anger and yet how many parents wait until their anger has subsided before hitting their children?

It would be a very difficult thing to do once one has calmed down.

The Global Initiative to end all Corporal Punishment of Children (www.endcorporalpunishment.org) says that difficulties arise when a “reasonable” level of punishment is allowed in state laws.

One person’s version of reasonable is different from the next and this has left children at the mercy of adults who vent their personal frustrations on them.

It’s also been found that some women who are abused by their partners tend to be violent with their children too — completing the pyramid of violence in the home.

We lament the behaviour of some adults in our society and yet we fail to see the link between what happens in childhood and in later years.

Some people say that they themselves were hit as children and are none the worse for it.

But I beg to differ — we only have their word for it, we are not privy to all that they do when no one is watching and their emotional scars may not be visible, even to themselves.

Although things are changing with the younger generations, the show of physical affection in African families is not part of our culture.

It’s strange isn’t it that hugging, laughter, a pat on the back are considered taboo, particularly between fathers and their children and yet hitting is acceptable?

By commanding submission through instilling fear, it may appear as though the parent is winning but it’s a hollow victory.

Hitting sends out the message that even though someone claims they love you, it’s okay for them to once in a while inflict physical pain.

Does this not create a problem in adulthood when a “loved one” does the same?

Of course it wouldn’t be proper for governments to micro-manage how parents bring up their children.

But a lot of children are suffering under the guise of “reasonable chastisement” which only an outright ban can address.  afrikarizma@gmail.com

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