Corporal punishment plants first seed of violence in children

Mbuyiselo Botha Gender Imbizo
Corporal punishment at South African schools has been outlawed a long time ago and yet some schools and teachers still use it, inadvertently introducing violence as a means of dealing with problems.
Corporal punishment at South African schools has been outlawed a long time ago and yet some schools and teachers still use it, inadvertently introducing violence as a means of dealing with problems.

I find the ongoing saga on corporal punishment not only emotive but irrational. It is 2018 and we are still discussing violence in our schools, calling it corporal punishment or discipline.

We are a violent nation bequeathed us by the obnoxious system of apartheid. What is sad about this debate is that most of us never reflect on the long term effect of the so call innocent, well-meaning spanking.

We protest "look at me, I turned out well and I was beaten at home, what is the fuss around the act of corporal punishment".

We go on to argue "look at the level of ill-discipline, gangsterism, alcohol abuse, teenage pregnancy, all sorts of social ills". We argue that all of these social ills are happening because corporal punishment has been banned in our schools.

I have not heard or seen of any scientific study that makes any direct correlation between the absence of corporal punishment and the prevalence of these social ills we see in our schools.

But there is evidence that children who grow up in a violent environment end up being violent themselves. Our statistics are witness to this fact.

I am waiting with bated breath for evidence that corporal punishment indeed has positive outcomes.

I know that it will be hard to produce that proof, because it does not exist. If it does, it is instinctive, historical and emotive. It will not stand a rigorous debate.

Some argue that there is a difference between abusing and disciplining a child.

Where do you draw the line between discipline and abuse, I ask proponents of such arguments.

We draw from the Bible, "spare the rod, and spoil the child", which is often misused and abused.

Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, general secretary of the South African Council of Churches, offers us an alternative view that emanates from religion.

"Any violent act against a child would be at odds with the attitude of Jesus Christ on children. When adults prevented children from coming to him 'he was indignant'," the Bishop said.

Mark's Gospel tells us "He welcomed them, took them into His arms and blessed them." The same Jesus would be angrier with adults that use violence on children!

Moreover, the use of violence by parents when children irritate or frustrate them, teaches children that one is supposed to act violently against what one dislikes - that is the very fountain of the endemic culture of violence in our society. In the name of the loving Jesus of Nazareth, we say NO to violence against children!"

Furthermore, adults use their inherent power in the relation with a child as motivation for their actions, usually stating "I know what is best for you, look at how I turned out".

We use this to shut down those who are opposed to corporal punishment. We accuse them of being colonised, confused, self-hating and coconuts, solely because they loath violence.

By normalising what is essentially abnormal, we run the risk of replicating criminals such as Collan Rex, the former Parktown Boys' High School assistant water polo coach, who has been sentenced to 20 years in prison for sexual assault on boys at the school.

Rex said the abuse he put his victims through was a culture at the school, and that he saw nothing wrong because he and many others went through the same things. This is the danger of normalising abnormal behaviour, in the guise of culture. How different is that to corporal punishment in our schools? Are we not raising our kids to internalise violence as the only way of dealing with disagreement?

We need to become better than our parents, create new traditions of discipline that are not lazy, unimaginative and uncreative. We need to move away from the thinking that to model behaviour, we need to instil fear and pain.

We need to arm our children with better tools to deal with disagreement - tools that do not involve violence.

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