By Immanuel Taiyewo Fawole
In many African homes, correcting a child of wrongdoing is usually done with physical punishment. Many parents believe that children cannot be properly raised without being beaten. For instance, Christian parents refer to the Bible in Proverb 22:6 KJV, saying, “train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” For these parents, the training is not without corporal punishment because the Bible also admonishes in Proverbs 13:24 against spoiling one’s child by not sparing the rod.
According to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child, corporal punishment is “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light.” Corporal punishment mostly involves beating, slapping, smacking, spanking, using hand or equipment like a cane, belt, whip, and other physical abuse.
Parents are guilty of violating a child’s human rights by subjecting the child to corporal punishment. Article 3 of the Guide to Human Rights prohibits torture and inhuman and degrading treatments. It becomes necessary to sensitize parents and guardians on the effects of these forms of domestic violence and how children could be moderately reprimanded. Non-corporal measures, such as praising and commending children when they act right, spending quality time, and applying calmer consequences for wrong actions, could be helpful.
Physical punishments like kicking, hitting, and whipping have negative psychological responses in children. Aside from the physical pain, injuries, fear, and anger that physical punishment causes, it generates psychological stress in children. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), children exposed to physical punishment tend to experience altered brain function and structure, overloaded biological systems, and behavioral changes. It has become imperative for parents to take other measures to correct and train their children because of these inimical consequences.
More often than not, many parents pay more attention to their children’s bad behaviors than their good ones. Focusing on the wrongs of children is why many parents tend to be hard and fail to praise or reward their children when the latter behaves well. Like everyone, children love to be commended when they do the right thing. Commendations often encourage them to want to behave more rightly.
According to UNICEF, children thrive on praise. Praise often makes them feel special and loved. Praising a child can be as simple as hugging, clapping in praise, allowing them to play longer than they should, or buying gifts. Training children and setting them on the right path also involves spending quality time.
Parents can use other calm consequences to correct their children or discourage them from committing actions that are considered wrong. Actions have consequences. When children understand that wrongdoings have consequences, they tend to act contrary.
To help fight against corporal punishment, African governments must set laws that criminalize corporal punishment, just like murder, which is another form of infringement on human rights. Most parents involved in beating their children still do so because they do not consider it a crime. When parents see beating as a crime that could lead to prosecution, the occurrence of physical punishment will reduce.
In addition to prosecuting erring parents, private corporations should donate to government’s efforts to train social workers on the best approaches to protecting children against physical abuse. Social workers should join other organizations and professionals to encourage parents to adopt non-physical methods in disciplining their children.
Fawole is a writing fellow at African Liberty.