Editorial, Searchlight
April 20, 2018
Child Abuse and Its Legal Variety



THE SENTENCING OF A WOMAN, earlier this week, to two months in prison for child abuse, has reignited the debate on the offence, how it differs from corporal punishment and the appropriate punishment for those found guilty.

The woman in question is 60 years old and unlikely to be rehabilitated by imprisonment. She is a product of a culture where corporal punishment, very often bordering on abuse, is the norm for disciplining children. She herself is likely to have been beaten as a child. The sentence therefore is a punitive one, with the dual purpose of sending a message to the public that child abuse is an offence under the law.

In the Caribbean, corporal punishment for children is accepted as the thing to do, but therein lies the problem. Differentiating between spanking and abusing a child is highly subjective. One person’s “spanking” is another person’s “abuse” and vice versa. What are the definitive parameters which separate the two? Also, “spanking” oftentimes can be the gateway to “abuse,” as the chances of losing control are greater when one is angry.

SEARCHLIGHT has often advocated for an end to corporal punishment in our homes and schools, and we do so again today. In the Caribbean, any suggestion of doing away with something as deeply engrained as corporal punishment would be a hard sell, but for a start, let’s take another look at the practice. What are we really teaching our children when we hit them?

We brag about how much “licks” we got as a child, and how it helped to keep us on the straight and narrow.

We are a Christian society, and advocates of corporal punishment point to the Bible, which advises against “sparing the rod”. But do we necessarily have to take this admonition literally? We sometimes forget the Bible also advises us to “train up a child”, which indicates setting an example, teaching principles carefully and purposely, and guiding them with care. We are also told not to provoke them to anger.

This is not to say that we should throw discipline out of the window and allow our children to break rules and misbehave without being punished. Punishment can take forms other than beating. Have we ever considered that what we are doing in our homes and schools is teaching our children that the most effective way to gain dominance over another person is to inflict physical pain? Could this practice be at the root of much of the violence in our homes?

Experienced parents say that while one child may respond to scoldings and withheld privileges, another may only respond to corporal punishment. On the other hand, professionals say that while some children are able to take corporal punishment in stride, others walk around with psychological scars for the rest of their lives.

Cultural practices need not be our destiny; they need not define how we will conduct ourselves in the future. Let us bring an end to child abuse and its legal variety, corporal punishment.