By Rena Galanis
Corporal punishment should be outlawed and studies which show a correlation between child abuse and the development of mental disorders in adulthood, should not be ignored.
Parenting can bring overwhelming joy as well as – at times -overwhelming frustration.
You try to be the best parent you can be while juggling jobs, finances, multiple children with varying developmental needs, single parenting, temper tantrums, schoolwork, all in tandem with the day-to-day requirements of keeping a household together.
And there are times when you get to the end of your fuse. But are you an abusive parent?
A recent study in Canada shows one in three Canadians have experienced some form of child abuse and that there is a resulting “robust” correlation with disorders such as drug/alcohol dependence, OCD, anxiety and depression in adulthood, to name a few.
It uses a benchmark of over three episodes of hitting a child to define physical abuse. Specifically, physical abuse was defined using one or more of the following three criteria:
1) being slapped on the face, head or ears, or hit or spanked with something hard three or more times.
2) being pushed, grabbed or shoved, or having something thrown at the respondent to hurt them three or more times.
3) being kicked, bit, punched, choked, burned or physically
attacked one or more times.
The nation-wide study was conducted using data from 2012 with over 23,000 respondents over the age of 18. The participants were asked if they had experienced physical, sexual or emotional abuse (as witnesses of abuse between adults) under the age of 16.
Although the study updates research on the long-term effects of child abuse, it isn’t exactly news. Organizations and front-line workers working with children and adults who have experienced violence in childhood have known this for years.
Here in Canada, Section 43 of the Criminal Code makes corporal punishment of our children (between the ages of two and 12) legal and allows a special defence to assault, which justifies corporal punishment of children by parents, substitute parents, and teachers, if the force used is “reasonable” and for the “child’s correction.”
The words “reasonable under the circumstances” in s. 43 mean that the force must be “transitory and trifling, must not harm or degrade the child, and must not be based on the gravity of the wrongdoing.”
Section 43 was challenged in 2003 by groups advocating to abolish the law and for the full implementation of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child. Canada ratified it in 1991 and article 19 in the Convention calls for the “protection of children from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse.”
The decision to uphold Section 43 in 2004 by the Supreme Court of Canada came after much debate and in the face of numerous studies, which show that corporal punishment is ineffective for long-term teaching or as a disciplinary tool and that physical punishment can escalate to abuse. (Over 100 organizations and people advocated for to repeal s.43.)
It’s a controversial issue because some parents who give a rare slap on the behind or wrap on a hand to avoid a hot stove, fear they will be labelled abusers. Canadian (and Blogher) writer, Jen Pellegrini, voices that stance here via Huffington Post.
She may have a point and the fact is, no parent likes to be told they aren’t doing a good job with the threat of a Big Brother-type government watchdogging their every move. Even the most conscientious parent can have bad days – days they wish they could do over with more patience.
But Canadian law has a number of safeguards in place to prevent charges for “minor slaps and spankings,” as well as reasonable, required restraint (in order to secure a child in a car seat, for example.)
Most parents aim to be more than a “good enough” caregiver with the hope that their children will thrive and lead healthy lives built on a foundation of loving care.
Canadian law provides a legal shield against domestic abuse and all adults a right to physical security. Between the ages of two and 12, our children do not enjoy this privilege.
Abolishing the law that allows for reasonable physical restraint or correction of a child by parents, caregivers and teachers will probably not eradicate child abuse.
It will, however, make clear our value that our children have the right to be treated with the same dignity and respect and with the full force of the law which all adult members of our society expect.
Study after study showing the far-reaching effects of physical punishment can’t be ignored. When should a child’s human rights take effect? On day one.
Let’s not roll the dice on the futures of our children.