Disciplining Children – Time to Lay Down the Cane

In December last year, Azizul Raheem Awalludin and his wife, Shalwati Norshal, were arrested for the abuse of their 4 children who are aged 7 to 14. 
The Malaysian husband and wife were subsequently sentenced to 10 and 14 months respectively for various offences, including assault, and were ordered to pay damages to their children. (The Star)
The case has attracted worldwide attention because the Malaysian family was residing in Sweden, where all forms of corporal punishments have been outlawed since 1979.
Back in Malaysia itself, the case provoked a public outcry, with even politicians getting embroiled in the matter, with the country’s Prime Minister, Najib Razak, offering his help to the couple.
In his judgement at the trial of the couple, presiding judge, Mattias Moller, said:
"Even if the violence against the children has often been relatively minor, the offences which the district court concluded fall under the more serious charge of gross violation of integrity involved systematic and repeated violence.”
The couple’s second son, 12-year old Ammar Azizul, said his mother had hit him “more than 1,000 times” within a year, while his father did so “100 times”. The abuse was carried out mostly by hand, but the cane was used at other times.
“It is quite common. Very common,” Ammar told the court.
Ammar described how in one incident he had been doing his homework and became bored. He put on some music but was scolded and hit by his mother for it.
"She sent me to the room and I stayed there until the next day. Of course, I was scared, it was just too dark. So I said 'please, leave the door open a little bit', but she just slammed the door and I could not sleep."
Ammar added: "She came to the room and took a long stick, no, a hanger and started hitting me on the back." (AsiaOne)
Besides the legal points of contention about the case, the spotlight is once again on the issue of corporal punishments of children, particularly the use of caning.
Here in Singapore, a letter to the Straits Times forum page on 6 May asked if “it is time to re-introduce corporal punishment in schools, which is effective if meted out judiciously.” 
This, presumably, is to address what the letter writer saw as the risk of “raising generations of people who are ill-disciplined, morally deficient and disobedient.”
Caning has always been a contentious issue, with a 2009 survey of 100 parents putting the number of parents who support it at more than 50 per cent.
One of the main reasons often given by adults is this: caning is a norm in Asian societies, and we ourselves were caned when we were young, and we are none the worse for it. 
Such rationalisation is illogical, unfounded or ignorant. For example, while one’s own personal experience may not have had adverse impact on one’s well-being, it may not be so for others who similarly were exposed to corporal punishments.
The effects are different for each person.
And these are and can be serious.
The use of what is essentially, and is in fact, violence on helpless minors or children can and should never be condoned. Period. This is because of several reasons:
  1. The parent, being an adult, is physically stronger than the child.
  2. Segued with anger at the moment, the parent may lose control of his or her emotions. How does a child defend herself/himself against this?
  3. The child may not have avenues to speak up against such abuse.
  4. Parents, being the caregiver whom the child is totally dependent on, necessarily have the potential to silence the child from reporting such abuses.
But beyond all these, the most important issues relates to the child’s own psychological well-being. 
Psychologists have warned of the consequences or effects of such abuse of children in the name of “discipline” or “encouraging good behaviour’.
But as psychologist Frances Yeo with the Psychology Service of KK Women's and Children's Hospital told the media, “Punishment is not disciplining. Punishment merely shows how the parent feels about the problem.”
The adverse consequences for the child include a loss of self esteem, who at the same time learns from the violence that it is an acceptable way of correcting behaviour; that this is the way to “communicate” a desire.
The psychological effect can last many years, as one blogger wrote about the abuse his mother had heaped on him and his siblings when they were younger.
“There are good reasons why a civilized country like Sweden makes this kind of smacking illegal - children have no means of fighting back when parents become abusive like that. I know because I was at the receiving end of this for so many years as a child. There was absolutely nothing I could do when my mother vented her anger and frustration out on me physically - this is why I am living 8 time zones away from my parents and I have a very distant relationship with them today.”
He continued:
“I am ever so resentful of the way Asian culture tries to convince children that these beatings are acceptable culturally and that it is for their own good. Well, that's just bullshit - there's this assumption that Asian parents know what they are doing and can do no wrong. What about cases like mine, where you have a parent with serious mental health issues but nobody takes any notice because it's perfectly okay to beat the shit out of your children in Asia? No, that's just wrong man.”
He said:
“[Laws] are absolutely necessary to protect children from parents who are incapable of controlling their rage.”
And that perhaps is the most important reason for banning the use of corporal punishments – that as long as there is a potential for adults to inflict irreparable damage on a child through caning, such an act must be outlawed.
And banning such practices forces the adult to seek alternative ways to deal with situations which they otherwise would address by resorting to what is essentially the easy way out.
This is important as well – that the onus is on the adults, the parents, to find non-violent ways to communicate with their children. 
The tools of abuse – hangars, bamboo poles, rattan cane, belts – must be substituted with patience, communication, counselling, understanding. 
Parents and adults must understand that when a child acts or behave in a certain way, there is usually a deeper issue which needs to be addressed.
It behoves a parent or an educator to find better ways to reach inside a child in order to resolve that internal conflict, rather than to just try and beat the hell out of it, as it were.

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