Spare The Rod, Spoil The Child?
Do parents and teachers always know best, when it comes to disciplining their child or student? Or does power and authority blind side them to their methods and techniques which may be violating child rights and can be constituted as abuse?
Russell Peters, the Canadian bred Indian comedian, once famously joked, “Beat your kids!”, in reference to American parents who were much softer on their kids as compared to the tough parenting that Indian children are subjugated to.
In Asian cultures, values of respect and unflinching obedience towards elders (both teachers and parents are regarded as second to God) are above and beyond any civil, democratic or human right. In India, the story retold in many textbook lessons is that of the Shudra disciple, Eklavya’s Gurudakshina (student’s offering to his teacher) of his right thumb to the Brahmin teacher, Guru Dronacharya. What the takeaway from this story is not the denial of knowledge to a child of a lower caste or the cruel exploitation by an astute teacher only to secure the pride and joy of his favourite student (Arjuna, the Pandava Prince) but the sworn discipleship and complete obedience of a ‘model’ student like Eklavya.
In India, elders in the family and authorities at school definitely have a more ‘hands on’ approach to ‘straightening’ a child into disciplined behavior. While reading Annie Zaidi’s nostalgic trip to her prefectorial days of “disciplining” children, I was reminded of my days of monitoring the class with a ruler or cane in my hand. Class teachers would reward the monitor’s role to the students, who ranked the highest in tests or exams. These monitors had the legitimate authority to use all means on fellow students and I, at one such moment power and passion, hit my classmate so hard that I brought her to tears. In another incident, my Hindi teacher had mistaken me for another student at fault and hit me hard on my back. Even after she realized her mistake of hitting the wrong child, she didn’t see the mistake was in hitting me in the first place. An Economics teacher in High School, who considered herself very saintly in matters of morality and spirituality, guffawed at the incident of a student’s parents taking a teacher to court on the grounds of slapping her student. She blamed the current generation of spoilt kids to rules and regulations that prohibit strict disciplining on the part of elders and authorities.
Article 19 of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child says, “Children should be protected from all kinds of mental and physical violence”. The Child Rights Charter 2003 of India specifically states “All children have a right to be protected against neglect, maltreatment, injury, trafficking, sexual and physical abuse of all kinds, corporal punishment, torture, exploitation, violence and degrading treatment.” The National Policy on Education (1986, modified 1992) states that “corporal punishment will be firmly excluded from the educational systems.”
The accumulated study result of the negligence of these rights has been highlighted in a seven state survey (conducted in ‘09-‘10) by the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR) that revealed 99% of children have been slapped in schools, with over 69% in government run schools and 70.5% in private schools, and children as young as between three and five years old have been punished using derisive adjectives. There have been innumerous media reports of children with deep cuts and marks on their body, losing eyesight and in the severest cases, committing suicide because of corporal punishment.
Corporal punishment is, of course, not only limited to the school environment. It has been an integral part in our growing up years for most of us who have been spanked, pinched, caned, whipped by belts or locked in bathrooms for hours. What is considered corporal punishment in schools is further protected as disciplining by parents. Both parties would claim, and is true to an extent, that their intentions are good willed for the benefit of their children becoming level headed adults tomorrow. However, what we often don’t realize is that the intention is to instill fear in children, as that is understood to be the only means to gaining their respect. And only with fear and respect will they obey to do the “right thing” as considered by parents or teachers.
Aishwarya (L) & Abhigyan (R) with their father, Anurup Bhattarcharya
It is an unfair and heartbreaking story of the two young Indian children, who were separated from their parents in Norway on the grounds of feeding them with hands and sleeping in the same room, categorized by the Norwegian Child Welfare Services as ‘emotional disconnect’ and ‘neglect’ leading to ‘Attachment Disorder’ in one of the children. But while the Indian Government and media protest against the injustice to the family and multicultural insensitivity shown by Norwegian authorities, child rights have been blatantly flouted and disregarded in our own country.
Thomas Sajan and Tito Idicula, while highlighting the Norwegian Child Welfare side of the story in The Hindu Business Line, wrote:
“India, the country with the largest child population in the world, still doesn't have a credible database or reliable institutional mechanism with regard to child abuse. The fragmentation of old patterns of familial and kinship ties, rising number of child sexual abuse reports, and the mushrooming of both formal and informal day-care centres/baby-sitters, highlights the importance of a vigilant CPS (Child Protection Services) radar in India.”
While cultural differences in rearing children are natural and will prevail, we need to re-examine our disciplinary practices instead of merely defending them on the grounds that they have been in existence since time memorial. The fact is that because the implementation of international human rights for children and national laws and recommendations on child welfare are not stringent in our country, it has been largely left to the personal discretion of each individual and family, which has been reflecting dangerous trends and statistics. Maybe what India needs is an ombudsman functioning child services system like Norway in order to crack down on the rates of child abuse in our country. But before that we need to reflect on our own actions and see where we are crossing boundaries between disciplinary action and abuse.
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