Stop using the Bible as excuse for beatings

Monday, December 10, 2018

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There is a troubling regularity of incidents in public and private spaces involving, or relating to, violent altercations between adults and children.

Often the rest of us know about it because of videos and voice recordings being circulated via social media.

There are numerous videos of adults, including parents, “draping” and violently abusing children; children fighting back; teachers and students fighting; etc.

Such videos apart, there was a case recently — now before the judiciary — of a female coach allegedly beating a student athlete. The upshot of which was that the teenage girl was switched to another school.

It's clear that much of this flows from what many adults appear to believe is their right to hit children to enforce discipline and assert authority.

We are aware that the children's advocate, childcare protection agencies, and the police struggle to cope with the mindset and resulting problems.

Truth is there is strong disagreement among Jamaicans about how children should be disciplined and whether corporal punishment is appropriate.

Many adults feel that children should be seen, not heard, and should act at the behest of adults without question. Indeed, many seem to believe that children have no rights, and often justify beatings on grounds that the Bible says the rod should not be spared.

Older Jamaicans can testify from first-hand experience that in times past the situation was far worse. Children were savagely beaten in schools, homes and elsewhere with no questions asked.

Thankfully, much has changed since then.

As this newspaper understands it, at the official level, at least, the leadership of the education system, including the Ministry of Education and Jamaica Teachers' Association (JTA), has turned its face against corporal punishment.

Yet, although there have been cases of teachers running into trouble with the law, there are apparently educators who still hit their students. Further, there are still some parents who believe teachers should have that right.

In many homes, brutal child beatings are still the norm. To complicate matters, there are still respected voices asserting that corporal punishment has its place in school and home.

Prime Minister Andrew Holness, a former education minister, is among those who have passionately advocated against hitting children on the basis that it only serves to perpetrate violence.

Speaking at a school opening function recently, Mr Holness said: “We have been literally saying to our children, 'A slap is right.' When that child leaves [school], then a kick is right, then a stab is right, then shooting is right. It is utter nonsense to say, 'Well, I get slap and I never turned out that way,'; utter rubbish because people who have been stabbed turn out that way, and it only takes one to create the violence and mayhem.”

Mr Holness has pledged in the past to lead a parliamentary debate on corporal punishment and to explicitly outlaw the practice in schools by amending the Education Act. He should do it now.

Moreover, there is need for a sustained public education campaign aimed at preventing child abuse, be it physical, verbal or otherwise.

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