You've got to be cruel to be kind...
You’ve got to be cruel to be kind… (Photo credit: HA! Designs – Artbyheather)

I got some interesting and heartfelt responses to my first post on corporal punishment in Jamaica, especially in relation to what used to happen in the schools.

In commenting on how students not very quick academically were treated at his primary school Earl said:

“Instead of intellectual stimulation they were mostly treated to the stimulus administered to all parts of their bodies (not just the rear end or the hands) by heavy belts, rulers, sticks, canes or any other convenient implement. Some of these instruments of cruelty were even given names by some teachers, so strong was the bond they attached to their favourite ‘weapon’.

I am still pained by the memory of a particular girl being made to stand on the desk so that her tormentor could be better positioned to beat her around the legs. The strop he used was about four ft long and with each blow it would wrap around her exposed leg and bruise her further as it retracted. But it did not stop there! With each blow he issued a string of invectives, calling her names such as “white pork”. Yes; she was of very light complexion as most the people in that section of St. Elizabeth (mainly of Scottish descent) were.”

This memory came from Vivienne:

“I still remember grade six at primary school when the whole class was caned because one boy did not do his homework. He was not punished. This went on for about a week until the boys beat up the one who refused to do his work. That was apparently the teacher’s strategy. It was a traumatic experience. Teachers should be banned (from) hitting a child point blank.”

A thin, flexible cane designed for corporal pu...
A thin, flexible cane designed for corporal punishment. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

People’s feelings about corporal punishment in the home, however, are a lot more mixed.

Carmen shared this:

“I think parents should parent with love, care, concern, self-control and discipline. That is what setting a good example means. Each child requires different techniques … beating them to death (or near death) to teach them about life is just plain ridiculous and abusive. Slapping down a child because “yuh jus like you fadda” makes no sense, slap yourself, you chose this no good SOB!! But again a swift swat on the behind is necessary sometimes.”

But Phyllis believes that corporal punishment is always a no-no.

“Parents may indeed rationalize that they were beaten and that they turned out alright- is that really true? This is called fooling oneself.

Teachers and parents have absolutely no need to inflict physical punishment on children- instead, both parents and teachers need to be made aware of the difference between discipline and punishment. …Correction of errant behaviour could take the form of lost privileges, doing work to compensate for what should have been done etc. The outcome of this approach is to cultivate a sense of ownership of one’s actions in the child via showing the strong relationship between logical and natural consequences of actions- positive or negative. This approach develops discipline which everyone needs to take them through life as responsible, productive and principled individuals.”

Many people feel uncomfortable with the idea of the state intervening in how a parent disciplines his/her children. with the caveat that clear cases of child abuse should be prohibited.

This of course is the difficult part. Where do you draw the line? What is ok? Carmen speaks of a swat on the behind. Most people wouldn’t bat an eye at that. Or at a slap on the arm or leg. Once you get beyond that it can get tricky.

Paul said in response to my post on Facebook:

“There is a difference between beatings to keep a child in line and taking out frustration on children with what they called “murderations.” I thank my mother for keeping me and my siblings in line with the rod. God bless her and I thank her for it every day.”

Many Jamaicans echo his sentiments and tell you they were the better for the beatings they received as a child.

The Global Coalition to End all Corporal Punishmentof Children is seeking to end corporal punishment in all settings, including the home.

Map of the world with colour applied to countr...
Map of the world with colour applied to countries with an official prohibition of all forms of corporal punishment of children, based on (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The group’s 2012 Progress Report on the Caribbean stated that:

“A 2004 study involving 1,720 11-12 year olds in Jamaica found that the most common methods adults used to resolve conflicts with children in the home were pushing, grabbing and slapping children (experienced by 86% of children) or beating them with an object (84.2%).

In a later study, also in Jamaica, children described being beaten with objects such as belts, rulers, garden hoses and boards, and in a 2004 study involving 203 parents of 6 year olds, 46.6% stated that physical assault was the most commonly used “disciplinary method” in their homes. Of those reporting physical assault 31.1% reported spanking and 13% beating with an object; other physical assaults included pinching children, shaking them and tying their hands.”

The Report looked at children’s attitudes to corporal punishment and said that:

“In a study involving six focus groups with 60 children aged 7-12 in Jamaica, reported in 2008, children expressed their anger and hurt at physical punishments and revealed their struggle to understand the idea that their parents “beat them because of love.”

When children were asked about how they would behave as parents of the future, some children said they would use more democratic or flexible discipline while others said they wanted to hurt their own children as much as they had been hurt:

“I would give them everything they do to us; I would tape their hands; I would beat them so hard they can’t talk; I would slap the living daylights out of them; I would tie them to the bed, and thump them in their mouth …”

The Coalition notes that the laws governing corporal punishment in Jamaica and other Caribbean countries have their origin in our colonial past.

Bodilo adjusting his culottes after corporal p...
Bodilo adjusting his culottes after corporal punishment (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“As in much of Africa and Asia, corporal punishment of children was promoted and institutionalised across the Caribbean during the colonial period, in the context of military occupation and slavery, in the development of early school and penal systems, and in some Christian missionary teaching.

The legality of corporal punishment across the region has its origins in the laws of colonising European countries. This is visible in the provisions allowing for “reasonable punishment” in the laws of many Caribbean nations, as well as the application of the English common law concept of “reasonable chastisement” in British overseas territories including Anguilla, the Cayman Islands and the Turks and Caicos Islands.”

The group is lobbying for law reform that would remove all legal defences to corporal punishment and for legislation clearly prohibiting corporal punishment, saying that:

“Without explicit repeal of these defences and justifications, children do not have equal protection from assault; laws may exist against violence and abuse of children, but these are not interpreted as prohibiting all corporal punishment.”

The Coalition maintains that although public education is necessary, legislative reform cannot await societal acceptance of the abolition of corporal punishment, arguing that:

“The states which have achieved full prohibition have done so in almost every case despite majority public opinion opposing a ban. On this as on many other social issues, governments must act on the basis of their human rights obligations and professional advice – well ahead of public opinion.

There is no justification for keeping children waiting for a change in the law to confirm their fundamental rights while attempting to change adult attitudes. Nobody would argue that law reform to prohibit all violence against women in the home should await universal anger management courses and full employment for men.”

It’s unlikely that our politicians are likely to grab onto this particular hot potato yet. Let’s be clear, Jamaica has made significant progress on this issue of the beating of children. The nightmare scenarios of vicious beatings in schools recalled by so many Jamaicans are unthinkable today. Thank God for that!

The Education Ministry under the leadership of Andrew Holness acted against the sentiment of a sector of the public in announcing that there is to be no more corporal punishment in schools, and corporal punishment is now legally prohibited for children in the care of the state.

Neighbours will often now call the police if they think children are being beaten excessively, that is, are being subject to what Jamaicans call “murderation.” But what is acceptable remains the subject of debate. Spankings with the palm of the hand? Beatings with a belt? Electric cord? A broomstick? A ten-minute beating? Half an hour? An hour? Where does loving discipline end and abuse begin? Is any type corporal punishment by parents ever acceptable?

These are hard questions. What I think is beyond doubt is that parents need more help. I keep hearing the question “If we are not to beat, what are we to do?” and I think it is a legitimate one.

Parenting is hard work. It is one of the hardest jobs on earth, and some children are much  more challenging than others. We need more resources, more workshops and seminars to help parents cope and to provide ideas on how to parent. Schools and churches can be instrumental here. In many cases, parents don’t choose corporal punishment as a considered method of punishment. Many of us simply don’t know of any other methods of discipline that work.

It’s a difficult issue, but one we need to keep talking about. What are your feelings on corporal punishment in the home?