We like to think of it as a sordid Dickensian phenomenon confined to the realms of Oliver Twist, to the gory shadows of Darren Shan horror books and the murky fogs of the past. Roald Dahl lived in terror of it in his school days. Yet, corporal punishment for children and even teenagers is far from history. Especially in Asian countries (although not restricted to them), corporal punishment is a daily occurrence for thousands of schoolchildren living with their families. These are children well above the poverty line - middle class, "normal" children, who are seen by society as having healthy, wholesome, privileged lifestyles by all accounts.
Socially, it is entirely acceptable for parents or older relatives to hit children on a daily basis; common forms of punishment include slapping, pinching, beating with shoes and yanking hair. The United Nations's stance is firmly against this kind of punishment.
Incidences of teachers striking students in schools raise an outcry, so why do parents persist? The message seems to be: it is despicable for other people to hit my children, but perfectly all right if I do it myself. This is nought but a blatant statement of ownership over the child, who is not expected to retaliate but suffer in silence.
The repercussions of beating on physical, mental and emotional health are seldom researched or discussed by parents who otherwise enjoy comparing notes on other aspects of how they bring up their children - education, eating habits and extracurricular activities. The hesitance to openly talk about disciplinary methods seems a testament to the fact that parents and caregivers believe, on a subconscious level, that hitting children is wrong, and it is a shameful admission to make to the public. It can be a hush-hush topic, with parents and victims unwilling or scared to reveal the truth.
Public opinion is divided. Some think discipline must be enforced by beating children or else they are bound to get out of hand - spare the rod and spoil the child. Others believe that a light smacking or spanking is, when it comes to young children, the way to illustrate the difference between right and wrong. Unlike the sensation of pain, an emphatic "no" will not convey the message to a toddler who doesn't have a firm grasp of language.
This opens a new can of worms with lots of grey areas. What, then, is the minimum age at which it is acceptable for a child to be spanked? When should corporal punishment stop? It often continues until the late teens, where the victim may be physically more resistant to pain but possibly less emotionally stable and more prone to low self-worth and suicidal tendencies. What methods are acceptable for a particular offence - or shouldn't words suffice?
It is unclear where the line between discipline and domestic violence lies. I wish violent parents would rethink their stance and remember that cruelty perpetuates cruelty. This vicious cycle will continue through generations unless an active stand is taken against it now.
Lavanya Malhotra is an 18-year-old student in Dubai
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