Sunday, February 25, 2018

More than licks

The footage of a mother beating her 12-year-old daughter for indecent behaviour has gone viral and the result is a highly emotional debate on whether a child ought to be subject to any form of physical punishment for wrongdoing.

The fact that the “licking’’ has been posted on social media has enabled persons from all walks of life, to share their views and some of the comments posted are nothing short of astonishing.

There are persons who wish to give the woman in question a “Mother of the Year’’ award for taking a firm position in handling her child while sending a powerful and definitely forceful message to all and sundry that she is prepared to face the brunt of the law in the name of enforcing strict discipline in the home.

The mother is being commended for making a bold statement about dealing with errant children in a society which promotes indecency, lewdness and sexual promiscuity.

For those “in favour of beating’’ cheerleaders, the mother is a pillar of strength and virtue for taking control of her situation, namely the repeated vulgar conduct of her daughter and using “a good licking’’ to teach her child a lesson. The mother is further being applauded for employing the technique of “causing shame’’ to the child by putting the beating on social media—making the infliction of the punishment available for all to see for posterity.

On the other end of the spectrum is the group of individuals, primarily academics and social welfare activists who shudder at the thought that in this day and age corporal punishment is still viewed as a means to instil discipline and values. They argue that society needs to move away from treating children as “toys that can be beat up on’’ and instead use the deprivation of privileges approach in order to punish children for their bad conduct.

The group makes a distinction between instilling discipline and punishing, pointing out that the former can be achieved by meaningful discussion and reasoning and that the use of physical force does not necessarily teach the child what he/she has done wrong. If the use of physical punishment such as beating is meant to stop errant behaviour, how is a parent or guardian ever sure that the conduct which is the subject of complaint is understood by the child as being wrong as opposed to simply objectionable by the person inflicting the punishment?

A child could therefore go through life remembering being beaten but not appreciating the wrongness of the act that he/she committed.

The third school of thought finds itself in the middle of the spectrum with the firm belief that physical punishment is justifiable but only in specific circumstances such as continued deviant behaviour.

As the older generation might say “the child too harden” or “ah fed up talking” or “dis child just doh listen.” The premise is that attempts at reasoning with the child have failed and so physical punishment is used to drive home the point that the conduct is unacceptable and just plain wrong.

This approach is viewed as a healthy compromise and more socially acceptable for a society that wishes to promote a more caring and loving approach to raising a child. Of course this brings to mind the saying by those parents who have given “licks’’ to their children “it is because I love you that I beat you.”

Whatever part of the spectrum you find yourself, the premise must be that at no time should children be the victim of abuse or harsh, cruel and unusual punishment. No matter what the circumstance, the life of a child must never be at peril while being punished for bad behaviour.

I have listened carefully to the various arguments in favour and against corporal punishment at home and in schools and more specifically, the perspective of those who have joined the heated debate on whether the mother who beat her child was justified in her action.

Somewhere during the discourse, it became apparent that many persons believe that all forms of physical punishment inflicted on a child, even a rap on the knuckles, are unacceptable.

This position on what is already a testy subject has been met with great objection to the extent that when I articulated this view on my television programme last week, many loyal viewers questioned whether I appreciated the difficult task in looking after a child, reminding me, not always politely, that I am not a parent and so should reserve my opinion on the matter.

I accept that the subject of the retention of corporal punishment is a matter of national importance but we will get nowhere if the debate remains at the level of what many adults say—“I got licks and I turned out okay.”

This Thursday I will continue the discussion on my television programme about whether it is right or acceptable for a parent or guardian to beat a child as a form of punishment and be assured, on this topic, I will do more listening than talking.

• Gillian Lucky is an attorney-at-law and presenter of the television programme Just Gill