By Sir Frank Peters
There’s an horrific misconception out there that beating children (corporal punishment) is obeying a command from God. There’s another totally ignorant belief that corporal punishment beats hell out of a child. There’s also one that claims corporal punishment serves the best interests of the child. And there are people who camouflage their own mental demons that torment them and these people perform the abuse and cruelty regularly in Allah’s name. What chances do a defenceless innocent child, only a few years away from the mother’s womb, have of living a normal childhood and becoming a balanced adult against such influential, compressed flawless ignorance?
Many ‘teachers’ do not beat children in their charge allegedly for the child’s good, but for their own good and the personal gratification they get from doing it. It’s their way of unleashing the tension and frustrations built-up in their own private lives and having a classroom filled wall-to-wall with ‘whipping boys’ is a God send – a perk of the job – in a society that on the main turns a blind eye to the cruelty and damage caused to the children. Parents generally don’t retaliate when their ‘gift from God’ returns after school or madrasah all bruised, sore, feeling less of a person and howling inwardly for the brutality to stop. They can’t be blamed – they don’t know, ignorance has been their lifelong partner, tutor, and friend. They, unfortunately, had it instilled into them the concept that when a child makes a mistake, he/she needs to be punished, so the mistake is not repeated. Pay particular attention to the word ‘mistake’.
Punishment (read aggression, read corporal punishment) is not and never was the solution to resolving mistakes. If people were to be punished for all their minor infractions, life itself would be an horrendous; one non-stop conveyor belt of cruelty and not worth living. Mistakes are acceptable to grown-ups… they make them all the time. It doesn’t matter if you are Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, members of her cabinet, the Dean of Dhaka University, or even the Editor of this publication, all are prone to making mistakes and do so regularly. The difference being that nobody beats them when they make a mistake. Why is this cruel punishment reserved exclusively for children? It is birth right of every child to make mistakes on their highway to learning. The reaction to that mistake is where adults generally go wrong. A child should NOT be punished for having made the mistake, but intelligently corrected. It is called DISCIPLINE. A child needs to be disciplined, corrected, shown the right way… not punished.
(FAST REWIND)… this brings me to my earlier remark, there’s a section of society who believe in punishing children. They believe by beating them (corporal punishment) they are obeying a command from God, despite the massive evidence stacked-up against it. All of this horror, pain and rivers of tears over the years can be attributed mainly to the mistranslation of one single word, ‘rod’. Most people commonly know the word ‘rod’ to be a thin straight bar, especially made of wood or metal (fishing rod, or a stick by which someone is beaten). The hackneyed expression, common to most homes, schools and madrasahs and repeated throughout the ages, is: “spare the rod and spoil the child”.
We are told it’s there in black and white in the “good book”. There’s another one similar to that that says ‘he who spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is careful to discipline him’.
Never spare ‘rod’
And those are perceived to be the only excuses and licence needed to beat a child mercilessly… to do the child a favour… to beat the devil out of him/her. How wrong, how sad, how ignorant. In Hebrew the word has a totally different meaning. In Psalms 23:4, it states: “. . . thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” Now, that makes complete sense. The shepherd’s rod/staff was/is used to ENCOURAGE, GUIDE, and DISCIPLINE the sheep towards taking a desired direction, NOT to beat, hurt or damage them. No shepherd would intentionally damage his stock and reduce his profits.
The correct interpretation of the proverb, therefore, should read “spare good GUIDANCE and spoil the child” and “he who spares GOOD GUIDANCE hates his son but he who loves him is careful to discipline him”.
Why would anyone think that beating a child is a good thing and it would make them better citizens? A damaged child today is a broken adult tomorrow and a potential threat to society. The jails are full of broken adults that were damaged as children.
Poor parenting and poor teaching skills do not justify corporal punishment and those who administer it are not only heartless lawbreakers, but are actually working against the wishes of God.
Moulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, Chairman of the Council of Islamic Ideology told an international media conference recently that Islam STRICTLY prohibits physical punishment of both males and females. Those of Christian belief can go through the Bible and they will not find one mention where it says Mary and Joseph beat their son Jesus or that Jesus beat the children he taught.
Try to imagine Muhammad or Jesus slapping children in the face, beating them with sticks, shoes or metal scales, pulling their hair, or giving them a merciless trashing as some of the kids in schools and madrasahs experience today.
You cannot beat-in good; it’s not possible. You cannot beat-in respect; it’s not possible. Muhammad, Jesus and all the prophets taught with love, no corporal punishment, and that worked wonders for them. If it worked for them, the chances are the same recipe will work in homes, schools and madrasahs for others. In 2011 when High Court justices Md. Imman Ali and Sheikh Hassan Arif outlawed the barbaric practice of corporal punishment in Bangladesh schools and madrasahs, they said corporal punishment was “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a clear violation of a child’s fundamental right to life, liberty and freedom”. Despite the ban, corporal punishment is still on-going. Unfortunately, where there’s ignorance, corporal punishment will always exist and flourish.
(Sir Frank Peters is a human rights advocate, an award-winning writer, a Royal Goodwill Ambassador and a former newspaper publisher and editor)