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Thompson-Ahye: Stop licks in the home

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Amy Annamunthodo. Akiel Chambers. Sean Luke. Jacob Munroe. Jabari Hernandez. Recently, Keyana Cumberbatch. These are the names of children who will forever be stuck in the memory and consciousness of T&T. Not for the good deeds and works they accomplished but for the manner in which they were ripped, far too young, from society. While many more names might go unmentioned, T&T is now grappling with ways to address an unsubstantiated increase in child abuse and child sexual abuse. 



One way to begin, according to child rights advocate  Hazel Thompson-Ahye, would be to stop corporal punishment in homes. The UN Committee on the rights of the child defined corporal punishment as, “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light. Most involves hitting (“smacking,” “slapping,” “spanking”) children, with the hand or with an implement—whip, stick, belt, shoe, wooden spoon, etc. 


But it can also involve, for example, kicking, shaking or throwing children, scratching, pinching, biting, pulling hair or boxing ears, forcing children to stay in uncomfortable positions, burning, scalding or forced ingestion (for example, washing children’s mouths out with soap or forcing them to swallow hot spices). 


In the committee’s view, “corporal punishment is invariably degrading.” In addition, it stated, there are other non-physical forms of punishment which are also cruel and degrading—punishment which belittles, humiliates, denigrates, scapegoats, threatens, scares or ridicules the child. Thompson-Ahye said repealing article 22 of the yet to be enacted Children’s Act would take T&T one step closer to becoming a less violent society. 


According to article 22: “Nothing in this part shall be construed to take away or affect the right of any parent, teacher, or other person having the lawful control or charge of a child or young person to administer reasonable punishment to such child or young person.”   It did not state what was considered reasonable punishment.


Take legislative measures
Thompson-Ahye in a phone interview with the T&T Guardian said all countries which ratified the convention of the rights of the child (T&T included) should take legislative measures to ensure that children were not abused, sexually or otherwise. Many studies, she said, indicated the need for prohibition of corporal punishment. 


A 2010 online resource sheet from the Australian Institute of Family Studies said findings on the use of corporal punishment towards children point in different directions. Some reviews suggest that corporal punishment may lead to adverse child outcomes—disruptive and anti-social behaviour; poor academic achievement; poor attachment and lack of parent-child warmth; mental health problems (particularly internalising problems such as depression); and substance and alcohol abuse.


For Thompson-Ahye disciplining a child does not mean corporal punishment. Many in society, Thompson-Ahye said, held the common misconception that without corporal punishment children in T&T “would become like children in the US…where anything goes.”



Children still abused, killed in the face of laws
She quickly pointed out, however, that many children have been abused and some even killed in the US despite perceived liberal corporal punishment laws. Meanwhile, corporal punishment in homes, she said, has not been abolished in the US. A December 19 Education Week article entitled Corporal punishment persists in US schools noted that no federal policy existed on corporal punishment in schools. It said corporal punishment remained a legal form of discipline in 19 states. 


She said countries such as Sweden, Finland, Cyprus, Spain and neighbouring Venezuela had abolished corporal punishment in homes and, in some cases, there had been a marked decrease in the crime rate. 



She said many children who were spanked would most likely want to spank as well, leading to a cycle. Thompson-Ahye said corporal punishment was also ineffective as a form of discipline since parents would have to hit harder each time since the child would eventually become accustomed and the hitting ineffective. She noted there was a very thin line between corporal punishment and abuse. 



‘Parents must mirror good attitudes to kids’
Instead of hitting, she suggested that parents begin mirroring good behaviours and attitudes to children. Hitting and corporal punishment, she said, leaves psychological scars. Children, she said, should be taught to be critical thinkers instead of being forced to be obedient. “You are hampering the child’s developmental skills when you clamp down on children. You are stifling their communication skills. Those were the norms before  and should not be the norms in these modern times,” she said. 


Children, she said, had a right to be treated humanely. It was time, she said, that people arrived at a similar understanding that just like abusing and hitting an adult had consequences, similarly, there would be consequences for hitting and abusing a child. 



Ministry seeking to heed call
Clifton de Coteau, Minister of Gender, Youth and Child Development has referred repeal of the article 22 of the yet to be enacted Children’s Act to Attorney General Anand Ramlogan. De Coteau, in a phone interview yesterday said he was aware of calls for the repeal of the article and referred it to Ramlogan for his opinion. Once they get Ramlogan’s opinion, de Coteau said the necessary legislative measures would be taken. De Coteau could not give a definitive timeline as to how long it would take for Ramlogan to give his opinion.



He added that T&T, having ratified the UN convention on the rights of the child, undertook a responsibility, under article 19 of that convention, to protect the child from all forms of violence.



Article 19 states, “State parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”



T&T not submitting reports to UN on rights of the child
At a seminar at Hugh Wooding Law school, St Augustine earlier this month, addressing issues surrounding women, children and human rights, Prof of Gender, Social Change and Development Rhoda Reddock and director of the Netherlands Institute of Human Rights Cees Flinterman noted that the T&T Government had not been submitting its reports (as often as it should)on the progress made on the implementation of the convention on the rights of the child. It was uncertain when T&T’s last report was submitted.


Governments who have ratified the conventions are required by international law to report and appear before the UN committee on the rights of the child periodically to examine the progress made on implementation of the conventions and the status of children rights in the country. 


“All States parties are obliged to submit regular reports to the committee on how the rights are being implemented. States must submit an initial report two years after acceding to the convention and then periodic reports every five years. The committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of “concluding observations,” the committee’s Web site states. 



National Parenting Programme to be launched early next year
While the Education Act of 1996 made no mention of corporal punishment in schools, the Children’s (Amendment) Act of 2000 makes reference to corporal punishment in schools. 


The amended act states under second schedule, part b that parents or loco parentis (Latin for “in the place of a parent” refers to the legal responsibility of a person or organisation to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent), has a “responsibility to protect the child from unlawful physical violence and all forms of physical or emotional abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the parent’s care.”



He added that the National School Code of Conduct (2009) of the Ministry of Education states that corporal punishment should not be used but that there was still some legality to corporal punishment in schools under article 22 of the Children’s Act. 


He said to address such matters he planned to work with other ministries and stakeholders. Parents, he said, should seek alternative forms of discipline other than corporal punishment and that in the first quarter of 2014 the ministry will launch its National Parenting Programme which would give parents alternative ways of disciplining without corporal punishment. 



A global call 
Thompson-Ahye’s call is not new but part of a larger global initiative to end corporal punishment in homes, schools and other places. 


The world-wide initiative called the Global Initiative to End all Corporal Punishment of Children, which began in April 2001, promotes the use of non-violent ways of disciplining children and promotes the human rights of the child. The initiative’s Web site states, “Corporal punishment of children breaches their fundamental human rights to respect for human dignity and physical integrity.



Its legality in almost every state worldwide—in contrast to other forms of inter-personal violence—challenges the universal right to equal protection under the law. The aims of the global initiative already have the support of Unicef, members of the Committee of the rights of the child and key international human rights organisations and individuals.”


It said further, "Just as the Committee on the elimination of discrimination against women has been preoccupied with domestic violence to women, so the committee on the rights of the child is now leading the challenge to violence to children.”  When representatives of these two committees met in 1998 in Geneva to discuss action against family violence, they agreed that “zero tolerance” was the only possible target. 



Next week: Alternatives to corporal punishment


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