(TW: Child abuse, domestic violence)
We offer so much consideration and understanding to adults. We accept that they make mistakes. We say that teachers and parents are not perfect and they’re trying their best. Yet, when it comes to children, who due to their barely developed brains and relatively new arrival to this world should be deserving of MORE consideration, we set extremely unrealistic expectations for them and go off on them at the tiniest of mistakes. Normal child behaviour is castigated. It is from this unrealistic expectations that we accept and deem corporal punishment as necessary.
For example, children’s brains are biologically not as developed enough to exhibit self-control as easily and at the same level as adult brains. Your child is biologically at a disadvantage when it comes to putting down the phone or controlling their temper. You cannot expect them to do so perfectly because you gave them a lecture or tried a less punitive parenting measure. And you can absolutely not in turn use the failure of those measures to justify corporal punishment as necessary.
You need to ditch those unrealistic expectations you have and once you do that, simply keep repeating those positive parenting techniques or pushing them in the right direction, patiently, without expectations of an immediate result. As their brains develop, with help from your consistent positive efforts they will develop the skills.
Same goes for other behaviour. We need to ditch all extreme, perfectionist and immediate expectations of children and give them time and guidance instead of resorting to violence to compel perfection. Even fully developed adults have many of these same problems. Many adults are short tempered, if you’re using corporal punishment you’re most likely one of them.
Then why is it so unacceptable that a child might throw tantrums or behave disrespectfully towards parents in a fit of anger. I’m not saying ignore such behaviour, just that it is normal and as such any action should be patient and non-punitive and guidance based. Adults struggle and make messes and have huge flaws that result in massive consequences and fail and have so many problems. It is absolutely unfair to expect anything less from children.
Children deserve respect. They deserve dignity. Corporal punishment is an extremely disrespectful assault on this dignity. Many folks say that a misbehaving child deserves to be spanked or slapped. If misbehaviour and making mistakes makes you deserving of physical violence, can a child subject their parents to the same?
Slap their parents when they lose their temper or make a costly mistake at their jobs? How unthinkable that is. Such would instantly be called “No respect for one’s own parents. They are not perfect, so what if they lost their temper once?” and categorised as elderly abuse. The hypocrisy.
To those pointing out the age difference, age means you’re supposed to act more rationally, more mature and more responsibly. It does not mean that you have special rights to disrespect, insult, use violence and does not grant you more respect than others. Despite what Indian society might tell you, age is not in fact an accomplishment. Indians have this makes-no-sense belief of the elderly having more rights and more privileges compared to others when logically it should be that they have more of a responsibility than others. Age has long been used as a tool of oppression and a platform of egoistic supremacy.
GOOD AND BAD CORPORAL PUNISHMENT
Many proponents of corporal punishment support a false dichotomy of a good corporal punishment and a bad corporal punishment. They oppose a complete ban, rather supporting its regulation.
The ideal corporal punishment that is good, leaves no physical marks or injury, is delivered in private, is used as a last resort when other techniques fail, is handed out not out of anger or irritation but calm rationality, is followed by an expression of love and a explanation of why it was necessary and other such limitations.
According to them, such forms of corporal punishment is good, not harmful and should not be banned. I think its safe to say that overwhelmingly most instances of corporal punishment do not meet these parameters. They are also impossible to legislate. Are courts supposed to find out the mindset and emotional state of a parent while meting out physical punishment? Or criminalise it based on how often it is used? Or whether or not it is used as a last resort or misused for every tiny mistake?
Its either banning corporal punishment completely or letting children be used as outlets for parental anger, let them be hit for every tiny instance without any attempt at reasoning and use it as a means of humiliation accompanied with verbal abuse and mockery. That’s a very simple choice for me.
DISMANTLING THE SYSTEM
Corporal punishment against children needs to be viewed in the larger context of a system that dismisses children and their rights. The problem cannot be solved until we dismantle the system on which it rests.
That can start with our education system. With a code of conduct and training for teachers, an abandoning of all rules that disrespect, dismiss and violate a child’s rights such as common Indian school rules on children’s length of hair, and a structure with a space for students to express themselves like student unions.
In the parental and family systems, children need to be included in decision making, adults must be subjected to the same rules and accountability and children need to be seen as partners rather than subjects.
In the legal area, a strong, comprehensive child protection service needs to be created.
On top of this, we must work on the intersections of corporal punishment. Poverty and social marginalisation remain two big reasons for all forms of continued systematic violence in India. Correcting the massive power imbalance between the young and the old is also necessary.
Currently, the elderly are systematically favoured in our power structures and decision making systems. The law prohibits the youth from running for parliamentary elections with minimum age requirements set way above the age of 18. Our leaders are and have always been significantly aged people. There are no clear laws regarding requirements on parents to support their adult children financially up to a certain age or level of financial independence despite the fact that at 18 a person has not even completed their graduation. It is time we started treating our child population as more than cattle.
By Darshil Shah