Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
RECENT happenings whereby parents have found themselves in conflict with the law for using brutality against children in the name of instilling discipline, cannot go without comment.
Notoriety is a common characteristic in children during their formative stage. For some, it may be triggered by the explorative nature that comes with adolescence, which is likely to phase off as they grow older.
There are those little acts of mischief and bad habits among children that should not worry a parent because normally, youngsters will make mistakes or deliberately touch what they shouldn’t during that phase of life.
Such things as children picking food at home which isn’t theirs, eating between meals against parental advice, fighting with their siblings or defying the night curfew imposed by parents are expected and there is no need for a parent or guardian to get worked out or overreact.
With constant reminders and correction made in love, youngsters tend to outgrow certain bad behaviours and mannerisms.
Childhood is that phase of life when children make many mistakes and misadventures, and if they are not well guided, some may actually go astray and ruin their future.
Rather, certain acts of juvenile delinquency such as theft of household goods, money, substance or alcohol abuse, lack of respect for elders and other forms of indiscipline, could worry a parent if, when chided, a child is showing no signs of remorse and reform.
Much as parents have the responsibility to discipline children when they err, caution must be taken to avoid the temptation of using extreme force.
How do you make of a parent who dips his children’s hands in a hot pot because he or she finds him stealing the food while it’s cooking?
Is it discipline or brutality? What about a mother who sets a child ablaze in rage over an act of indiscipline.
In my view, its pure brutality which can’t make an erring child see their wrong, instead they will end up seeing the animosity in their irrational parent.
When discipline is done in love, it will help a child who is being corrected to see their wrong and possibly make amends.
But when a mother sets her daughter on fire and burns her severely, there is no love involved, and you don’t expect such an action to bring out the best of character in a child.
No matter what wrong a child may have committed, no loving and sane parent does such a thing to her daughter.
This may sound like a mere tale but a 12-year-old girl was last week admitted to the University Teaching Hospital after her mother allegedly set her on fire for an unknown wrongdoing.
During the same period, two men were admitted to Levy Mwanawasa General Hospital in Lusaka after their uncle allegedly beat them with a hammer for stealing his tyres.
The duo, who admitted to stealing their uncle’s tyres in an interview with this newspaper, had their hands disfigured as punishment.
Obviously, their uncle targeted their hands, because the duo have ‘long fingers’ which can’t avoid the temptation of touching things which belong to other people.
Targeting thieving hands with a whip, or pinching lips that have eaten stolen food is a common practice of punishing children in our communities. And by so doing, parents/guardians hope to dissuade mischievous children from committing a similar offence.
But in reality, that only triggers anger, hostility and resentment in such children and that’s how some of the children who are tortured by their parents tend to become serial wrongdoers in adulthood.
Similarly, the excessive use of force to correct children is not the best way to go because it makes a child loathe the enforcer of discipline. A good disciplinarian is one who helps an erring child to realise how wrong they are so that they can reflect and make amends.
Apart from being a cruel act, beating the hell out of a child is an offence and a parent who does that can be arrested for assault if a child presses charges.
Actually, many parents have ended up killing their children for beating them using excessive force. And the problem of acting on the spur-of-the-moment, is that by the time one comes back to their senses, the irreversible act is already done.
Imagine a parent killing two children in the process of beating them for stealing K5 from his bedroom.
These are little boys who just needed to be cautioned not to pick any money in the house, probably for sweets, without permission.
Some parents brutalise their children under the biblical cover of ‘spare the rod and spoil a child’. For me, the best way to discipline a child who is old enough to reason, is to reason with him or her. If a child becomes too stubborn to listen to you, probably they could listen to their uncle, aunt, brother, sister or a professional counsellor depending on the nature of wrongdoing.
If the mischief borders on criminality, it’s better to hand such a child to law enforcers than to take the law into your hands.
For example, if a child is stealing big items from home, report them to the police because if you choose to sort them out on your own, you may find yourself in conflict with the law.
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