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Secretary of the Association of Psychiatrists of T&T (APTT) Dr Varma Deyalsingh says T&T can find a middle ground in legislation to outlaw corporal punishment against children in homes. He was responding to Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar’s statement on Wednesday that she would look at legislation to protect children in homes.
This followed the release of a video on Facebook of a mother repeatedly beating her daughter with a belt, while using obscene language, over her inappropriate postings on social media that has gone viral. Deyalsingh said, “We need to know if corporal punishment should be outlawed or if we can come up with a middle ground such as the Canadian system which allows some leeway in parents disciplining their child.
“The Canadian model has stipulations allowing spanking for children older than two years and younger than 12 years, but without devices such as belts, whips or sticks but with the bare hand. “In the UK the law states that you can spank a child but not leave a mark; there’s a thin line between spanking and abuse.” He said organisations such as the Social Workers Association of America and The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) were now coming out against corporal punishment even in homes.
Not all countries that banned corporal punishment have low crime rate
Deyalsingh said all this could change as they were looking at the Sweden model and the correlation between the ban on corporal punishment and low violence. He said while countries such as Sweden, Iceland and Germany which had banned corporal punishment and had low levels of crime and violence, other countries such as Venezuela, the Congo and the US had high levels of crime and violence which may be due to other factors. The anomaly was Singapore which has caning and capital punishment, but a low crime rate.
Connection between child abuse, neglect...and abusive partner later on
Dr Linda Hadeed, lecturer in Social Work and Mediation at UWI said research showed that there was a connection between child abuse, neglect and abandonment, and the choice of a similarly abusive partner later on in life. Hadeed said the mother stated that the beating was an expression of love, so from the child’s point of view physical abuse equals love; so that if my partner abuses me, it is because he loves me.
Strong parent-child bond needed
She said the parent-child relationship formed the template by which all other relationships are patterned, so parents needed to be particularly careful about providing good enough parenting. Hadeed said rage was a sign of helplessness, and parents can easily feel overwhelmed. She said all parents needed access to proper, well-developed support systems and social services.
Hadeed said the support of parents, whether a single parent or a couple, was necessary for the development of a well-adjusted child. She said if a child had even one supportive adult in her camp, the child was likely to do well. An absent parent, she also said, sends the message to the child that she was not important.
Young girls being sexualised
Hadeed said girls were being sexualised at increasingly younger ages and the society can no longer ignore that these were the results of wining songs with suggestive lyrics and clothes that cover so little of the body. Hadeed said we need to confront the fact that children witness and emulate the behaviour of adults, and that we have no one to blame but ourselves.
She said with these two elements combined, a child who was conscious of her sexuality and who was also longing for attention, would soon find herself in the wrong place, with the wong company, or doing the wrong things.
Child abuse cuts across all borders
Hadeed said what was in the video was only part of the larger problem as abuse wasn’t only physical; it can also be emotional, verbal and psychological, and it can take place in any home, regardless of race, religion, or socioeconomic class. She said the physical injuries were temporary but the psychological injuries from the humiliation would last a lot longer.
Moonan: It was a case of child abuse
Meanwhile, ChildLine coordinator Mary Moonan said what she saw in the video— and from ChildLine’s perspective because they are interested in child protection—it was violent and a case of child abuse. Moonan said the video was six minutes of non-stop beating and the child was literally beaten into submission while the mother also used obscene language.
Alternatives to violent and aggressive punishment
She said all those were not good methods to discipline a child, and there were alternatives and consequences for such actions. She said the beating was a very violent and aggressive form of punishment which will create its own cycle of violence when that child becomes an adult.
Need for sex education and parenting skills to be taught
Moonan said parents needed to be taught parenting skills and be trained to acquire these skills to be good parents in the 21st century. She said consideration should be given to introducing parenting classes in secondary schools as well as sex education to teach them responsibilities, not only financial, but emotional, time management and commitment-wise, and also given a model of what a good parent should be.
Moonan said she wanted to encourage sex education as well as parenting education in schools so that the country could have a better generation of parents in the next five or ten years.
Enough laws already
Moonan said more laws weren’t needed for child abuse, but enforcement was the key. She said when a parent neglected or abused a child, ChildLine gets such calls, the police have the authority to investigate and remove the child if he is at risk. Moonan said the parent can also be charged if abuse takes place and it would be challenging going to the privacy of a home to enforce new laws.
Where to go for help?
• Deyalsingh said the Ministry of the People and Social Development has a parenting help line where someone can call for assistance—800-4775
• Moonan said for counselling, advice and to report incidents of child abuse, call ChildLine, the Children’s Authority (627-0748); National Family Service (627-1163) in the The Ministry of Gender, Youth and Child Development, the police and other resources.
ChildLine’s toll free number: 800-4321, it is open 24 hours, 365 days, and all calls are confidential.