I wish to thank the Express for its editorial of March 14, headlined: “Demand better schools, not licks”, Alicia Hoyte, for her letter published on March 22, headlined “Positive discipline, not sound beatings, and Vaneisa Baksh for her column of April 17, entitled: “The short brutish life of Brandon”. All of these publications, and others in similar vein, including writings by Kevin Baldeosingh and Basil Pires, contribute in no small measure to our understanding of the negative effects of corporal punishment on children.
The nation mourns the loss of Brandon Hargreaves, our nation’s child. His parents and other family members, despite the fact that some of them contributed significantly, by their actions or through negligence, to Brandon’s life being “brutish”, are fellow human beings, grappling with grief and guilt and we should be sensitive to this, especially at this time,when we seek forgiveness for our daily crucifixion of Christ. I extend sincere condolences to his family as they journey through their grief, seeking reconciliation to the reality of Brandon’s death. I trust that lessons will be learnt from his life and death.
Ms Baksh, in treating with Brandon’s death, highlighted the horrible physical abuse he suffered at his home and which caused him to be removed from parental “care” into the state facility, where he met his untimely end. In her well-written column, she made the point that “punishments do not need to be physically violent”. She echoed the view, gleaned from research of professionals world-wide, when she wrote: “The more violence children encounter, either as recipient or witness, the more they see it as a normal medium of expression.”
Domestic violence law has evolved since the days when the law gave men the right to use violence against their wives, when wives were dependent on their husband and regarded as their property. While the law with regard to wife-beating has changed, the law supporting child-beating endures in most countries. Today, children are still regarded as dependents and the property of parents who can beat them “for their own good”. To date, only 37 countries have passed laws which prohibit all corporal punishment of children. While we, in Trinidad and Tobago, have made some progress towards complete abolition of corporal punishment by repealing the law which authorised judicial corporal punishment of children and by enacting a new children’s legislation, yet to be implemented, which would prohibit corporal punishment in schools, as opposed to the policy decision now in force, we do not have the political will to prohibit parental corporal punishment, which so frequently progresses to child abuse.
Research by The Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children reveals the effects of corporal punishment of children as being: direct physical harm, increased aggression, poor moral internalisation (resulting in behaviours, such as bullying, lying, cheating, running away) and increased antisocial behaviour, increased risk of involvement in domestic violence, poor mental health, indirect physical harm, impaired cognitive development and endangerment of the parent-child relationship.
We continue to complain of bullying in schools, lament the number of deaths resulting from domestic violence in our homes; bemoan the prevalence of violent language in our schools, in the streets, workplaces and over our air waves; complain about the impunity with which the powerful oppress the disadvantaged; be appalled at the prevalence among us of sociopaths and psychopaths, and long for a peaceful society, but are unwilling to ban corporal punishment in our homes. We are determined to repeat the mistakes of our parents and teachers. The late Nelson Mandela, whom we revere, said: “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way it treats its children.”