What do the behavioural sciences teach about the effect of violence on children?
Stabroek News
January 7, 2002

Dear Editor,

This ongoing "debate on corporal punishment" is more than strange; it is a perversion. Public figures recommending physical assault against children? As a way of "educating" them? What is really going on?

The media trumpets aloud the names of the handful of children who do well in their exams - in spite of the well known deficiencies of the education system. The children give credit to parents, teachers and God. Every year my mother asks: What about the hundreds of thousands we fail? This too, is violence against children.

However, instead of joining the so-called debate on violence against children, I have some questions for your writers and readers to think about and answer. But first, I ask each reader to write down 10 reasons why a big human being could hurt and would hurt a small human being. ("Corporal" refers to the living physical body. "Corpse" is the dead physical body. To "punish" means to subject to penalty or inflict a penalty for a crime, fault or misbehaviour; to handle roughly; to injure; to hurt. "Corporal punishment" therefore means the hurting of the physical body that is the home to the mind of the human being.) Now for the questions:

Do we need laws with respect to assault on children? (We already have laws that make it clear that assault, physical or verbal, by one adult on another, is a punishable offence.)

If the answer to the first question is yes, who will make and enforce these laws? How many of our current law-makers and enforcers would never hit a child? How many of these persons, even if they were guilty of hitting children in the past, would never do so again? (They should stand up and be counted.)

Which offence is more serious - an assault by adult on adult or by adult on child? Should the punishment of adult offenders against children be more severe or less severe than adult-to-adult assault?

If the offender is a mother or father or adult relative or teacher, is the crime greater or lesser? Why?

Which is the more sensible way to approach wrongdoing by children and adults - punishment or correction?

Must we repeal the statutes in our education code that state the conditions under which children may be beaten in order for educators to understand that the beating of children, under any circumstances, is indefensible?

What are adults in authority really teaching children when violence is used or recommended as a teaching tool? Why is it necessary to explain to anyone - mother or father or teacher - that children learn by example? Why do we not know that children trained in the ways and effectiveness of violence are being directed to use violence to get what they want?

How is it possible to be good, lawful and righteous, whether faithful or faithless, and not protect children from being hurt? Why do the disciples of Christ choose not to take lessons in discipline from their leader and teacher? (Even non-Christians revere Christ for his teachings and his leading by example).

How do you get to be a policeman who can shoot a man in his mouth? What can a child who is chained to a bed by his mother and father become? (Toots can tell).

How can you get to be a father who beats the life out of his child and then has his dead body burned? How do you get to be a mother who beats her one-year old baby for crying?

Who teaches the children who become bandits that acts of violence, or the threat of violence, or the fear of violence can get them what they want?

What do the disciplines of human biology and neurology teach about the development of the child's ability to receive, store, retrieve and use information? What do the behavioural and other sciences teach about violence and early childhood development? What are the connections between childhood developing and national development? When childrearing methods are dominated by the shutting up, shouting down, humiliating, locking up, tying down, beating about, slapping, kicking, boxing, ear-wringing of children - what kinds of adults are likely to be produced?

Who brought the cane, the belt and the whip to this land of ours and for what purpose? Can our children say that colonisation, slavery and indentureship in its mental and physical forms are truly things of the past? To whom do their minds and bodies belong? Under what system of government will children receive the respect to which they are entitled? What is respect for children and what does it look like?

I want to use this opportunity to publicly commend Vidya Kissoon, a young man, for speaking out against the beating of children. I also want to field a few more questions. I'm sorry this letter is so long. I have hundreds more questions in mind.

Why are so many children silent on the hurt done to them by the adults in whose care they have been placed? Why are so many children silent on the hurt done to other children? Why are we not hearing from the multitudes of adults who have been harmed by actual violence, threats of violence and fear of violence from parents, guardians and teachers? Why are we not hearing from those adults who were spared violence as children but were witness to the damage it did to others?

And what kind of society are we that we think it good to beat up on children?

Yours faithfully,

Bonita Harris