Corporal punishment – the debate and alternatives, part 2

by Curlan Campbell, NOW Grenada 

  • Consider other ways to administer discipline which do not involve inflicting pain
  • Corporal punishment should be a last resort when other disciplinary measures have failed
  • GNCRC calls for necessary legal reform to abolish corporal punishment

The phrase “violence begets violence” is used when the topic of corporal punishment is discussed by those in favour of it being outlawed in schools. The saying suggests those violent behaviours projected towards another individual especially toward children will, in turn, be projected towards someone else.

The debate of whether corporal punishment should be outlawed in Grenada is not a new topic, and the Vice-Chairperson of Grenada National Coalition on the Rights of the Child (GNCRC), Ann Greaves, continues the call to abolish corporal punishment. But not everyone is in support of the complete abolishment of corporal punishment.

Assistant Professor of Psychology at the St George’s University, Novia John, is among those who disagree that corporal punishment should be banned. First, before sharing her opinion on the subject matter, John clearly defined corporal punishment as any physical punishment, like spanking, flogging and other physical affronts inflicted on a child by an adult. She also clearly made the distinction that there is a fine line between corporal punishment and physical abuse. She stated that although corporal punishment has a punitive aspect to it, once administered correctly it can serve to create a negative memory association to regulate a particular negative behaviour which can be very helpful for individuals who have difficulty in behaviour control. However, she made it clear that she is not in favour of physical abuse as the misuse of corporal punishment that inflicts bodily harm on a child or individual.

“Corporal punishment is about creating a negative memory association for a particular bad behaviour. Now I did not say an abusive experience, and this is very important. I am going to just backtrack for a second and just mention that in Grenada we have a very serious problem with abuse, especially the abuse of children… People don’t understand how to correct children. People are administering corporal punishment in abusive ways which are not acceptable so I just wanted to state that because I am in favour of limited corporal punishment, that I am not in favour of abuse in any way.”

John condemns the brutality in which corporal punishment continues to be administered in schools and at home. She said because she is in favour of corporal punishment that is controlled, this doesn’t mean that corporal punishment should be administered in all cases where it might be deemed warranted, but in fact it should be a last resort when other disciplinary measures have failed. However, with that being said, the psychology professor said during a child’s formative years, the use of corporal punishment should not be used.

“For example, if a child spills a glass of milk, you don’t spank them for that. I don’t believe that children or anyone should be punished for errors, but I think the intentional or willful repetition of disobedience needs punishment to some extent. Whether it is corporal or not depends on the child and the parental relationship.”

Whenever the debate of corporal punishment arises, those in favour of its abolishment in an attempt to justify their position will refer to research suggesting that children who are often victims of physical violence are at a greater risk of replicating this behaviour as adults. Economist and Assistant Professor at SGU, Gregory Renwick, favours that argument, and notes that youngsters who are conditioned from a very early age that inflicting pain redresses a wrong, grow up thinking their first reaction when somebody does them wrong is what pain they can inflict on that person.

Professor Renwick, who is against the use of corporal punishment, believes there are other ways to administer discipline which do not involve inflicting pain, with dialogue being the first step, then reinforcement such as depriving a privilege.

Samuel James, a father of 3 young daughters, is against corporal punishment and believes there are more effective alternatives to correct or regulate the behaviour of children, as he notes a child learn from young that his/her rights can be taken away in a very forceful manner. James said, “There are countries that have abolished corporal punishment. I think, in Denmark, it has been abolished for about 20 years now and the crime rate is really low, and so they must be doing something that works… when you compare to other parts of the world, we can see that corporal punishment is not really doing anything and making us model citizens, because if it’s working we are supposed to have less crime.”

A study published by McGill University suggests that countries with a complete ban on corporal punishment have less violence. The study found that there was 31% less physical fighting in young men and 42% less physical fighting in young women in countries where corporal punishment was banned, when compared with those where corporal punishment was permitted both at school and home. In countries where there was a partial ban on corporal punishment such as in Canada, the US and the UK where corporal punishment is not banned in at home, the level of violence in young men was similar to that in countries with no bans, though the level of violence in women was lower (at 56%).

This raises several questions for John who questions the validity of those surveys which suggest that administering corporal punishment will lead a child to project the same measure of force on another. She said these surveys generalised corporal punishment in isolation rather than take into consideration variables such as violent methods used when administering corporal punishment, when stating their case. “Those who are familiar with research design know that there are many times and there are other variables or other factors within a situation that can actually cause a situation and not the thing you’re looking for itself. In other words, if a person spanks and they call their child names, or if they spank and they use too much force, or if they spank and they exude hatred, these are confounding variables that can affect the life of a child.”

Alternative methods of disciplining children without the use of corporal punishment are seldom addressed. James has worked to instil discipline in his children without the use of corporal punishment. “I believe in concentrating more on the counselling part of the child and attending to the psychosocial needs of the child. It’s not about brute force, but it’s having this child learn to respond to reason and to be accountable for their actions. They are approaching the more stubborn years, which is teenage, but so far, we’ve just been removing privileges. I would speak to them about their behaviour and what I expect of them and I remind them constantly that my job is to prepare them for adulthood and so they can understand why I do what I do, because even though they don’t get corporal punishment, they are still upset with whatever corrective action I will take.”

John provided a safe and effective scenario where parents can discipline their child with the use of corporal punishment that is not abusive. “It’s a reasoning process but you’re going to spank them, but have a conversation first. ‘This is the third time I’m speaking to you about this issue, isn’t it? Yes Mommy, didn’t I say last time that if I caught you doing this dangerous thing which is endangering yourself or other people that you’re disobeying me that you would get a spanking? Yes Mommy. What do you think’s going to happen to you now? I’m going to get a spanking. That’s correct. You will get a spanking. I still love you. I love you a lot and you are going to overcome this because you’re excellent. You’re not going to continue with this behaviour and Mommy’s going to help you’re going to get a spanking.’”

She continued, “Now give the spanking quickly, stop talking, don’t drag it out with lots and lots of chatter because they are children. Just give this spanking and be done. They are going to cry and they are going to be upset for a while. You can then say that I gave you that spanking because I love you. I want you to go in the right direction. Make sure to try your best to obey me all the time so that I don’t have to give you a spanking.”

The GNCRC has made their case calling for necessary legal reform to achieve a full prohibition of corporal punishment in the homes, alternative care settings, daycare, schools, penal institutions, and as a sentence for crime.

Some of these legislative changes are:

  • Articles 54, 55 and 65 of the Criminal Code 1958 provide for “justifiable force” for “correction” of a child. These provisions should be repealed and prohibition enacted of all corporal punishment in all settings, including the family home and all settings where adults have authority over children.
  • Alternative care – Corporal punishment should be prohibited in all alternative care settings, including foster care, places of safety, emergency care, etc.
  • Daycare – Corporal punishment should be prohibited in all early childhood care (nurseries, crèches, children’s centres, etc) and all formal daycare for older children (after-school childcare, childminding, day centres, etc).
  • Schools – Provisions for corporal punishment in the Education Act 2002 should be repealed, in addition to the repeal of articles 54, 55 and 65 of the Criminal Code, and prohibition should be enacted in relation to all schools, public and private.
  • Penal institutions – Corporal punishment should be prohibited as a disciplinary measure in all institutions accommodating children in conflict with the law.
  • The sentence for the crime – The Juvenile Justice Act 2012 should be brought into force.

NOW Grenada’s attempts to obtain the Ministry of Education’s position on the subject of corporal punishment have been successful.

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