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Monday 20 August 2018
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Corporal punishment in TT

THERE WAS a proverb in the French Caribbean in the time of slavery: “Battre un nègre, c’est le nourrir”: To beat a n—– is to feed him. More loosely translated: Licks is food to a n—–.

In the 21st century, we remain locked on to the slave owner’s philosophy.

We are the descendants of people who were controlled and shaped by licks – man, woman and child – for generations, so today, most of us still think that feeding a child a diet of licks is the only way to produce a well-behaved human being.

We are truly a damaged people.

There are two prominent citizens for whom I have a great deal of respect, but who, in their capacity as talk show hosts, have disappointed me. One of them has offered his recommendation for dealing with the children involved in the Williamsville school incident: “All they need is a good cut-a---.” Apart from being a very shallow response to a deep problem, the language and content of that utterance are just as brutal as the action of the man in the video brutalising the child.

Why didn’t we go into the Parliament and share cut-a--- for the misbehaviour taking place there in the same time frame as the Williamsville incident? Talk show host #2 gave glowing praise to the woman who some months ago inflicted a prolonged and savage beating on her child and proudly put it on the Internet. This host called it “some well-deserved licks,” and over a period of weeks recommended to parents that they take the same action. Another very callous response. At the end of each show this host reminded us to “take care of the children,” which sounded like a sick joke. Both of these persons are intelligent, well-informed critical thinkers, who, on other issues, I consider to be my comrades-in-arms. I still respect them, for they will one day think this thing through and recognise that they are on the wrong side of history.

Some of the people who are today involved in advocacy for peaceful, positive parenting did not always hold this view. Some of us used to believe in the superstitious equation “discipline = punishment = licks.” That’s what we grew up with. Our parents and foreparents thought that some great calamity would follow if they stopped beating children, and we did not know anything else. But then, we opened our minds to a different, healthier approach, one which produces children who are self-disciplined, self-motivated, and confident.

This is healthier for the child and healthier for the country.

Sadly, the latest video, involving the toddler, is not being treated as a corporal punishment issue, but as an isolated incident of abuse. Among those outraged at the video are people who routinely beat their own children and see no connection between their action and that of the man in the video.

People are drawing a line, within the acceptance of corporal punishment, between “abuse” and “discipline”, by which they mean that licks is OK, for licks is discipline, but you mustn’t hit them too hard. Who is monitoring the use of corporal punishment to see that people are not taking it to extremes? You cannot separate extreme abuse from the right to hit your child. Hitting a child at all is abuse, and the authorities turning a blind eye to it just opens the door to even more abuse.

Scenes of parents/caregivers brutalising their children are playing out every day all over our country. There are children living in hell, and when they reach adolescence and start to act out their hurt, all we have to offer them is more cut-a---? We don’t get to see all of these abused and neglected children on the Internet. We find out about some of them when the child is killed by licks.

Caregivers beat children, and as hard as they feel to, because they can. The law allows them to.

The issue is dealt with, obliquely, on the sly, by a cowardly clause retained in the Children Act by successive governments because public opinion is in favour of beating children. Is domestic violence a matter of opinion? Is the offence of assault and battery a matter of opinion? Can someone charged with one of these plead in court, “In my opinion, I should have the right to beat my husband, wife, or neighbour to teach them a lesson?” Some public opinion is based on a lack of information. A progressive leadership informs itself on issues, and then leads us away from practices that are recognised internationally as harmful. Why are children not protected by the laws against domestic violence or assault and battery? Here adults exercise the power of life, injury, and even death, over children, just like the relationship between slave-owner and the enslaved.

We are often told that neighbours must report child abuse, but neighbours reporting on a child-beating have received discouraging police responses like, “What the child do?” and “Well, Madam, how do you discipline your child?” Neighbours might get the police to act on a report of woman- beating, but clearly, to the police, child-beating is OK.

This issue was raised at a seminar put on by a women’s group some time ago. The Ag CoP was there, and he declared his support for the beating of children, to the thunderous applause of other police officers present. Yet every now and then we see him leading a long police march against child abuse. The time, energy and other resources put into those marches would be much better spent running workshops to sensitise police and parents on what actions are child abuse, and how to foster discipline without violence.


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