In the recent past, the media has been awash with stories of children who had been beaten into disability. In one of the stories from eastern Uganda, a teacher beat a student to death.
There are so many untold stories of corporal punishment happening in our schools and homes. If we took a random survey today on how many people have never been caned by a teacher or parent, I am sure the results would be dumbfounding.
Adults most times take to caning, pinching, name calling, shaming, making children kneel under the sun and generally humiliating them as a way of disciplining. These are just but a few examples of corporal punishment.
The UN Convention on the Rights of the child defines ‘corporal’ or ‘physical’ punishment as “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light. Most involves hitting (smacking, slapping, spanking) children, with the hand or with an implement.
Most adults use corporal punishment because they have been socialized to believe that it’s the normal way of handling children; others want to instill fear in the children because they feel that if children don’t fear them, they won’t respect them; some even argue that they were beaten and humiliated as children and it did not harm but instead helped them learn better.
In 1997, the government of Uganda abolished corporal punishment in all schools, but we are still seeing so many forms of corporal punishment being inflicted on our children under the guise of discipline.
According to the Violence Against Children Survey 2018 by the ministry of Gender, Labour and Social Development; of Ugandans aged 18 to 24 years, six in ten females (59 per cent) and seven in ten males (68 per cent) reported experiencing physical violence during their childhoods while four in ten girls (44 per cent) and six in ten boys (59 per cent) aged 13 to 17 experienced physical violence in the last year.
Most adults do not realize the damage they cause when they use corporal punishment. Physically it may cause broken bones, injury, disability and even death. Emotionally, corporal punishment causes anger, shame, humiliation and lack of self-confidence.
Some children become withdrawn and feel ashamed of trying out new ideas, others experience slowed or interrupted cognitive and emotional development. Corporal punishment is counterproductive because of the negative consequences it has on children.
It’s, therefore, important that we help children to thrive and live to their full potential by employing non-violent ways of disciplining them and saying no to corporal punishment.
Much as we have been nurtured to believe that discipline involves punishment, this is not true! It’s possible to discipline children without using violence. Raising Voices, a non-governmental organisation, defines positive discipline as a non-violent way of guiding children to develop discipline and positive values from within and to be their best due to feelings of self-worth rather than fear or shame.
Positive discipline entails three components:
1. Teaching children life skills; these are skills that enable us to make good decisions to succeed in life. They include; honesty, negotiation, patience, planning, problem solving, critical thinking, etc. When such are impacted in the children, we minimize their misbehaviour.
Role models: Because children learn more from what they see than what they are told, adults need to role model certain standards, values and behaviours that we expect these children to exhibit such as non-violence.
Fair and consistent use of non-violent responses to misbehaviour: The non-violent responses include behaviour talks where an adult openly discusses with the child about the problem and together find a more appropriate solution, time out - where an adult may take the child out of the group to allow them to reflect on their actions, verbal warnings and written or oral apology, among others.
To be more effective, adults need to be mindful of the responses they apply to the different scenarios. We need to pay attention to the relevance and proportionality to the misbehavior, age appropriateness and character of the child. The response should also aim at correcting a mistake, not paying back - it should focus on helping the child learn. Patience too, is of essence because rehabilitation takes time.
Although positive discipline takes time, it breeds self-esteem, cognitive development, health relationships and helps children to learn without fear. On the other hand, corporal punishment has far-reaching damage on children.
Apart from the physical damage, it emotionally and psychologically hurts children. It is not about what you do, but how the child experiences it. Although we cannot see emotional injury, it often has more serious long-term consequences than physical injury.
The author is the violence against children prevention advocacy manager at Raising Voices.