Spare the rod – and help a child thrive

Sem­i­nar led by Swe­den looks at the is­sue of a ban on hid­ings

The Star Early Edition - - NEWS - MPILETSO MOTUMI

HEN AN adult does some­thing wrong in the work­place, their boss won’t smack them for the mis­take. Why then beat a child in a school or home set­ting?

Is it be­cause he can’t re­tal­i­ate, mak­ing him an easy tar­get? Will the pain of be­ing hit make the child fear re­peat­ing the mis­take?

Th­ese were some of the ques­tions that formed part of the dis­cus­sion at the Chil­dren’s Rights and Work against Cor­po­ral Pun­ish­ment two-day work­shop in Stock­holm, Swe­den, ear­lier this month.

Jour­nal­ists from sev­eral coun­tries af­fected by cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment were in­vited by the Swedish In­sti­tute to study the work the Euro­pean coun­try has done since abol­ish­ing cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment 35 years ago.

While South Africa con­tin­ues to strug­gle with cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment, Europe is mov­ing to­wards a to­tal ban.

In Swe­den, it took many years be­fore cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment was banned. The cul­tural de­bate of par­ents be­ing raised with it was one of the main fac­tors peo­ple sup­ported it.

The de­bate around the is­sue led to con­tin­u­ous dis­cus­sions that started to break down the bar­ri­ers of cul­tural norms.

In 1924 the Geneva Dec­la­ra­tion of the Rights of the Child was adopted by the League of Na­tions.

Over the years Swe­den started cam­paign­ing – through meet­ings, pre­sen­ta­tions, news re­port­ing and so on – about the neg­a­tive im­pact of phys­i­cal and emo­tional pun­ish­ment on chil­dren. The main aim was to ed­u­cate par­ents, guardians and teach­ers on the long-term

Wdam­age chil­dren carry with them into adult­hood after be­ing phys­i­cally pun­ished. The cam­paign also stressed the im­por­tance of treat­ing chil­dren with re­spect and un­der­stand­ing for them to grow up to be re­spon­si­ble cit­i­zens.

In 1979 the ban was fi­nally voted into law. But it was met with op­po­si­tion and an at­tempt to over­turn it al­to­gether.

Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials raised con­cerns about par­ents be­ing crim­i­nalised and some even stated that the law went against Chris­tian­ity.

For the law to work, the gov­ern­ment had to find ways to make sure the topic was al­ways dis­cussed in fam­i­lies. They worked through ed­u­ca­tional brochures and posters giv­ing par­ents al­ter­na­tive ways to dis­ci­pline chil­dren and pro­vided the nec­es­sary support.

The de­vel­op­ment of a child is key in the progress of this ban. It starts at home and if the chil­dren are not given a chance to de­velop in a healthy en­vi­ron­ment they will not be able to grow into the best adults they can be.

“It’s all about a re­la­tion­ship with the child. It’s not about a quick fix,” said psy­chol­o­gist Eva Har­nesk. “Be clear when you say no, be firm. When the re­la­tion­ship is good, the child will un­der­stand.”

The size of Swe­den’s pop­u­la­tion is a fifth of South Africa’s and one could ar­gue that the dy­nam­ics and cul­tures are too dif­fer­ent to make a com- pari­son. On the other hand, it could also be ar­gued that the treat­ment of chil­dren should not be based on a pop­u­la­tion, but rather on in­di­vid­ual ac­tions to­wards them.

Gen­eral sec­re­tary of Save the Chil­dren Swe­den, Elis­a­beth Dahlin, said that even though there were chal­lenges, a child’s fun­da­men­tal rights should never be ques­tioned.

“We have to keep the de­bate burn­ing and give tools to par­ents… It takes a gen­er­a­tion to get that change.”

Doc­tor of law and se­nior lec­turer at Stock­holm Univer­sity Pernilla Leviner said there was no ques­tion about the ban of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment even though com­bat­ing vi­o­lence against chil­dren was com­plex.

“It is just not an easy thing to do. It is some­thing so­ci­ety has to work at on a con­tin­uum.”

She said the main aim of the ban was to make it clear that chil­dren had a right to an up­bring­ing with­out vi­o­lence, to change at­ti­tudes and de­crease the use of cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment rather than crim­i­nalise parental be­hav­iour. This meant the ban did not carry a sanc­tion or penalty for par­ents.

In the 1960s, more than half of all par­ents were pro us­ing phys­i­cal pun­ish­ment but by 2011 about 92 per­cent had changed their at­ti­tudes. The num­ber of chil­dren who have re­ported be­ing smacked dropped from 33 per­cent in the 1990s to 14 per­cent in the early 2000s, with less than 10 per­cent of chil­dren re­port­ing that they had been se­verely or re­peat­edly smacked.

Even with the pos­i­tive re­sults vi­o­lence against chil­dren re­mains a prob­lem.

Leviner said the risk fac­tors of vi­o­lence in­cluded, much like in South Africa, par­ents af­fected by al­co­hol and drug abuse, chil­dren with chronic dis­eases and dis­abil­i­ties and par­ents not born in Swe­den and those who had lower ed­u­ca­tional lev­els.

To­mor­row the Depart­ment of Ba­sic Ed­u­ca­tion, Save the Chil­dren South Africa and a panel of ex­perts from Swe­den will have a sem­i­nar in Pre­to­ria on end­ing cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment.


MU­TUAL RE­SPECT: The aim of the cor­po­ral pun­ish­ment ban is to treat chil­dren as equals, to show them they have an im­por­tant role to play in the fam­ily and so­cial set­ting, and to show chil­dren that they have a right to be raised with­out vi­o­lence.

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