Sun | Jun 16, 2024

Editorial | Beyond corporal

Published:Monday | May 27, 2024 | 12:05 AM

Delroy Chuck is right that corporal punishment rarely works as a tool to change children’s behaviour.

So, the premise upon which he has articulated the Government’s plan to outlaw the beating of children in Jamaican homes is sound. Children live what they learn. In that sense, corporal punishment may not only leave physical and psychological scars on children, it also often reinforces the idea of violence as an appropriate means for settling disputes – as is all too prevalent in Jamaica.

But Mr Chuck has to be mindful that, given the scale of the problem faced by Jamaica, new, or additional laws (assuming they are required), won’t of themselves, translate to meaningful change.

Legislation has to be matched by greater, and more aggressive, efforts at social transformation, including initiatives of the type about which Prime Minister Andrew Holness spoke last year, but which he has not publicly advanced much since then.

Jamaica is now closing out its annual observance of May as Child Month, a period of greater focus on the welfare of children. It is against that backdrop that Mr Chuck, the justice minister, last week addressed the disciplining of children in homes, where beatings are prevalent.

“The government intends to outlaw any form of corporal punishment,” he said.

“We have done so in the schools and we want to do it in the homes, because it is wrong,” Mr Chuck added. “It doesn’t help the child and, as far as we’re concerned, it’s much better to speak, perhaps, in a strong language to the child, rather than to be slapping the child, pinching the child, twisting the child here, and using all sorts of punishment to get behaviour deemed appropriate by the parent.”

Jamaica has a Child Care and Protection Act that makes it clear that “children are entitled to be protected from abuse, neglect and harm or threat of harm”.

OBLIGATION

It also places on citizens an obligation, on the pain of criminal sanction for failure, to report to the authorities cases of children “being or … likely to be, abandoned, neglected or, physically or sexually ill-treated”. A children’s advocate, who is a commission of Parliament, is charged with protecting the rights of children, as outlined in the law and under the Constitution.

The Child Care and Protection Act doesn’t specifically mention corporal punishment as an offence, although the children’s advocate, and other children’s welfare agencies, have several times intervened in situations where children were reported to have been severely beaten, sometimes after videos of the events have gone viral on the Internet.

However, corporal punishment, research data show, is a common feature of disciplining in Jamaica. Indeed, a 2022 report by UNICEF, the United Nations children’s agency, reported that over 76 per cent of the island’s one- to 14-year-olds, in the month before the survey, were subjected to some form of violent, disciplinary method, including, for 68 per cent, psychological aggression. Only 13 per cent of children were disciplined only by non-violent means.

Physical punishment of children transcended demographic groups, showing little difference regardless of the parents’/caregivers’ education or wealth. While 19.3 per cent of the richest quintile used only non-violent methods to discipline children, as against 9.7 per cent in the poorest group, nearly seven in 10 (67.5 per cent) of the survey’s richest households used some form of violence to reproach children. Violence as a disciplinary tool was used in approximately eight in 10 (79.7 per cent) of the poorest households, with only narrow gaps between that group and the middle stratas.

DIFFICULT UNDERTAKING

Getting to grips with this problem will clearly be a difficult undertaking. It is unlikely to be appropriately tackled without a concomitant attention to Jamaica’s broader crisis of social dysfunction- manifested, in part, by the country’s high homicide rate - and in its crisis of parenting.

Two years ago, for instance, Kaysia Kerr, CEO of National Parenting Support Commission, reported that a survey conducted by her agency found that 92 per cent of the parents admitted to not having the skills to effectively communicate with their children. Many opted to leave the job to schools.

While the sample was not sufficiently large or stratified to definitively determine the national circumstance, it was, for this newspaper, a significant pointer to one element of the dislocation faced by the country’s youth.

The matter of how parents’ ability to communicate with their children (and Jamaicans with each other) and, therefore, their approach to disciplining in the home, is not a discrete phenomena from violence by students in schools, or the country’s high levels of crime, including its stratospheric homicide rate of around 50 per 100,000. Neither is it separate from the poor education outcomes, and all that flows from this.

The fix, of course, will have discrete components for each element of the crisis, but the demand really is for a Jamaican renewal, which requires extraordinary leadership and a mass mobilisation of the society – for which the country awaits.