Spare the rod – and help a child thrive
Seminar led by Sweden looks at the issue of a ban on hidings
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.