We all care for the overall safety and well being of children. Childhood is a crucial stage of development in everyone’s life. It is the period of physical and mental growth; an age where experiences are important because they transform into the memories that one will cherish as an adult. But is each child having these positive experiences?
While most of us condemn violence in general-especially towards women and the disabled- we pay little attention to the youngest members of our society. We fail to understand that ‘corporal’ or physical punishment breaches a child’s fundamental right to respect, physical integrity, and human dignity. Children enter the world as vulnerable and are unable to develop without the help of parents, teachers and caregivers. Therefore, it is one’s responsibility to nurture children, raise their self-esteem and foster confidence in their abilities. Keeping this in mind, it is important to note that bringing up a child is not easy.
Children indulge in mischief, do not listen, and misbehave. The frustration that this misbehavior creates causes caregivers to strike, without a second thought, leaving behind a society where physical punishment has persisted for generations. According to a study “Child Abuse in India-2007” every two out of three children reported facing corporal punishment in school. The fundamental question to ask would be why adults resort to violence as a first stance?
In short, it is needed as a disciplinary tool. A belief prevalent amongst many today is that inflicting physical harm on a child is done for their “best interest”; it effectively instills respect and obedience within them.
Let us begin by examining the constituents of corporal punishment. The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child defines it as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.” We notice that this definition, being rather broad can at best only be indicative. The word “light” arises much subjectivity and allows a myriad of ways in which people have interpreted this punishment in the past. From hitting a child with the hand or an object (e.g. cane, ruler, book, belt), to burning and scarring them, all are a part of corporal punishment. Let us not forget the more common techniques such as hair pulling, pinching and kicking.
We begin to recognize that these “light” and more commonly referred to, as ‘reasonable’ techniques are actually a form of child abuse, allowing caregivers to exercise their right and power. Moreover, in the past, the low-status of children was exploited and they were never taught to question authority, but times have changed. Educators are developing child-oriented learning techniques, providing them with the opportunity to creatively think and explore for themselves. Children in schools need to learn the importance of asking questions and thinking critically, two key elements required by adults in our dynamic and competitive world. And thus, “enforcing blind obedience through the threat of corporal punishment greatly stifles initiative and creativity in children”(Unesco- ‘Positive Discipline in the Inclusive, Learning-Friendly classroom’)
Indeed at first, spanking a child seems effective as it results in immediate compliance, however in the long run detrimental effects follow. A report by The National Protection Commission for Child Rights offering guidelines for the elimination of corporal punishment in schools, states, “There is an association between corporal punishment meted out to children and maladaptive behavior patterns in life, such as aggression and delinquency.” Children are indirectly learning through adults that violence is an acceptable means to resolve conflict; when adults themselves, a set of generalized beliefs that approve hitting are formed, and passed down in posterity. In addition, some of the long-term consequences outlined were “increased disruptive behavior in the classroom, vandalism, poor school achievement, poor attention span, increased drop-out rate, low self-esteem and depression”. So are these results in accordance with our deeply entrenched cultural views? Not quite.
Without doubt, discipline is required to educate children, protect them and aid their development. Yet, instead of being conducive to better learning, our practices degrade them. Hence, it is time to implement a new and more effective technique, which continues enforcing norms and limits, but ensures that our children’s rights are preserved.
It is imperative for all of us to be aware that there is an underlying difference between discipline and punishment. While punishment controls a child’s behavior, discipline attempts to develop their behavior and grows from mutual respect and tolerance. Athletes are the first people that come to my mind when I think of intense discipline. They keep their focus during long hours of training, maintain equanimity and give up bad habits such as smoking and drinking to pursue their dream. All these require immense self-control, which is the goal of discipline. The Unesco guide states that self-control can only be learnt if encouragement is provided and “not painful, meaningless, consequences”.
Thus, positive discipline is the solution. It revolves around non-violent ways of caring for children and teaching them how to behave. While corporal punishment questions the child’s dignity, positive discipline questions the action and aims to understand the causes of child misbehavior. When the former controls and ridicules children, the latter provides consistent, yet firm guidance. While fear and obligation to obey is an aspect of physical punishment, learning is the drive for positive discipline. The whole approach of this concept is to allow the inclusion of children in the learning process, because each child wishes to contribute and belong. In simple words, no one behaves wells by continually fearing a threat of being hit and shamed.
It is important to highlight that if shared norms and values don’t exist in a society, then members would be unable to comprehend or cooperate with others, as each person would have a different view on what is “reasonable” or “acceptable” behavior towards kids. Thus, for a stable and maintained society, we need to endeavor towards rejecting the use of corporal punishment completely towards children to allow for a common belief in society. As Gandhi says “Be the change you wish to see in the world”. So, if we wish for schools to implement this effective method of positive discipline, we must treat children the same way at home.
Save the Children, a Child Rights Organization has recently published an extensive “Toolkit on Positive Discipline with particular emphasis on South and Central Asia”. Their objective is to equip “anyone who is involved with children with precise tools and concrete activities to raise disciplined children without using physical and psychological punishment.” Join me in advocating their cause by seeking to hold workshops in your respective cities, in which we can learn the best way to provide our children a childhood that they truly deserve.