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Discipline mustn't be administered through brutality

27 Mar 2019 at 23:55hrs | Views
The problem of child abuse is getting out of hand and our society must act now to stop the terrible crimes against innocent children.

Recently, the Midlands community awoke to the shocking news that a 51-year-old school teacher had smashed a Grade One pupil against a desk, inflicting a deep cut on the girl's forehead.

The teacher, who later pleaded guilty to assault charges, was sentenced to two years in prison by a KweKwe magistrate.

The barbaric assault has not only tarnished the image of the teaching profession, but also has portrayed teachers in general as cruel and lawless people.

Let it be said quite frankly that this incident is just the proverbial tip of the  iceberg as legions of children are daily brought to the attention of public and health officials after being brutally assaulted by teachers, parents or other adults in charge of them.

According to a Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (Zimstat) report released a few years ago, hordes of children in Zimbabwe are daily subjected to violent and abusive disciplinary action at home as well as at school.

The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey for 2014 indicates that 63 percent of children aged between one and 14 years were subjected to violent disciplinary measures, while 36 percent said they had endured physical punishment, with 5 percent of them saying the physical punishment was very severe. To call this discipline is indeed a tragic misnomer.

It is pertinent to note that when discipline is administered through force or violence it is no longer discipline, but child abuse.

Section 53 of our constitution states, in clear and unambiguous terms, that "no person may be subjected to physical or psychological torture, or to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment."

In most families abused children are often those who were not planned for. Some of them were conceived out of wedlock while others were a product of a forced marriage.

Oftentimes, one child of a family is the target of abuse while the others are not. The potential for child abuse is also influenced by individual or cultural beliefs, which accommodate abuse for certain categories of children; these include adopted children, illegitimate children, females, disabled children or those with albinism.

Child abuse counsellors hold that serious cases of child abuse can result in death.

"Many children have died after being viciously assaulted by teachers, parents or their guardians, all in the name of discipline. Those who survive the brutal assaults often suffer emotional scars that remain long after the wounds inflicted through physical abuse have healed.

"Research has revealed that abused children are likely to have problems in building and maintaining relationships throughout their lives. In addition, they are likely to have low self-esteem, depression, suicidal tendencies and various other mental health issues," said Pastor Evans Ncube, a child abuse counsellor.

Pastor Ncube said child abuse is an ungodly practice and generally stems from crude and improper attempts to discipline children, often administered out of uncontrolled emotional whim or ignorance.

"Some parents are provoked and incensed by a child's inability to obey instructions, through misbehaviour or utter rebellion; they lose temper  and physically abuse the child by either slamming him/her against a wall, holding the child under water, scalding the child with boiling water, kicking the child or throwing objects at him/her," he said.

Pastor Ncube said he had often been asked by some parents, teachers and other adults how they should discipline children who misbehave.

"Many adults with children in their custody often ask when to be severe or mild in disciplining a child, or where to draw the line of strictness? The first step in dealing with children when they make mistakes is to determine just how bad or serious the misdemeanour is.     

"Lying, stealing, cheating, vandalism, drug abuse, alcoholism and sexual immorality are critical problems and must be dealt with firmly and swiftly," said Pastor Ncube.

He added that questions had also been raised  concerning whether a parent  should insult or beat up a child for minor infractions like spilling milk or wetting his/her bed, and if a teacher should beat a child for talking in class.

"If a parent or teacher assaults a child for such minor infractions, what then will they do when they have to deal with really severe problems? A friend of mine, who is a teacher, expressed it well when he said the only weapons that some parents and teachers seem to have in their arsenals are nuclear weapons.

"Now let us ponder and reflect on this; a nuclear weapon destroys everything − good, bad, big or small. However, with children more ‘conventional weapons' are needed when dealing with ordinary problems they face as they grow up," said Pastor Ncube.

He said some parents explode over every infraction committed by a child, adding that there is a huge difference between spilling milk and smoking marijuana.

"Parents should realise that any corrective action they take in disciplining children should be commensurate with the infraction. In a nutshell, parents should not over-discipline for a minor infraction or under-discipline for a major one," he said.

Reverend Daniel Parira, a spokesperson for an organisation for the prevention of child abuse, echoed similar sentiments.

"There is a right time to discipline children. Parents should never allow themselves to lose temper and physically abuse their children for misbehaving. This is not discipline, nor does it show self-discipline on the part of parents. Such wild, uncontrolled bursts of violence will, apart from causing injury to the child, only produce disrespect in a child for his or her parents," said Rev Parira, adding that parental example is a critical factor in rearing children.

"Nothing renders a parent's efforts in child rearing more ineffective than parental hypocrisy. What I am saying here is that parents should not expect their children to adopt and adhere to ways and standards of behaviour that they do not practise. This is akin to a crab teaching its off-spring to move forwards while it moves sideways. Children are natural mimics and learn from example more than from words.

"Over the years I have interacted with youths who smoke, take drugs and alcohol. They often say they partake of these harmful substances after seeing their parents partaking of them," Rev Parira said.

He said parents should always use wisdom and discretion in disciplining children.

"Any correction should fit the infraction. Parents should also bear in mind that children are not adults and they should not expect them to behave like adults. Parents should be realistic; they must not overreact or overcorrect and should always strive for proper balance in administering discipline.

"Any disciplinary action taken against a child should be done in love, and not anger. If a parent is emotionally out of control, then he/she should first cool down before administering corrective action. Under no circumstances should parents allow emotions to cloud their judgment," he said.

He said discipline can take many forms and one of the most effective, especially for older children, is the withdrawal of privileges.

"Banning the use of television for a certain period of time or withdrawing permission to visit or play with a friend can be very effective in disciplining children," he said.

– Cuthbert Mavheko is a freelance journalist based in Bulawayo and has contributed articles and short stories to the Chronicle,  Sunday News and other publications since 1995.

-Contact details-Mobile 0773 963 448; e-mail mavhekoc@gmail.com

Source - chronicle
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