Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
IF WE are to carry out a national survey on the prevalence of grievous child spanking in the name of discipline, thousands of parents and guardians in Zambia would be found wanting.
Culturally, this is something we do – when a child errs, you spank them to correct them. But if done excessively, the law calls it assault on a child and the minimum custodial sentence, if found guilty, is five years.
The Penal Code says: “Any person who commits an assault or battery on a child, occasioning actual bodily harm, commits an offence and is liable, upon conviction, to a term of imprisonment of not less than five years and not exceeding 10 years.”
Obviously, many parents and guardians are guilty of assault on children, but they roam freely because no complaint has formally been made against them to the law enforcers.
Honestly, child abuse by way of beating is a common practice in our society and the culprits are undeterred because witnesses want to keep their mouths shut.
Foster parents such as aunties, uncles, step-parents and in-laws have time and again been cited for assaulting children under their care on trivial matters.
Oftentimes, we hear cases of children being brutalised for picking some food without permission, touching things they shouldn’t or common adolescence mischief.
In certain instances, foster parents as well as real parents of children have used extreme force and caused grievous bodily harm to their victims.
Last week, Zambia Association of Musicians president Njoya Tembo’s wife, Brenda, was given five years simple imprisonment for allegedly assaulting her niece with a cooking stick.
For now, it’s an allegation because she has appealed to the High Court, so I will not go into the details of her case.
Nevertheless, some people argue that there is nothing wrong with disciplining a child with a whip, but in my view, the beating should be moderate and done with love.
In an article I did on August 31, 2017, titled ‘Child discipline isn’t brutality’, I shared that a good disciplinarian is one who helps an erring child to acknowledge that they have done something wrong. Therefore, the child can reflect and make amends.
Mischief is a common trait in adolescence and parents ought to be patient and tolerant with naughty and annoying children.
Like I said in that article, childhood is a phase of self-discovery and children are bound to make many mistakes, but they need to be guided and corrected with love.
The beating that is done in love should not leave a child bruised, swollen, bleeding, limping and, at worst, hospitalised or dead.
I have said this before and I will say it again – I don’t believe in beating children who are old enough to reason.
They can be chided verbally or perhaps punished by way of withdrawing certain privileges, for example, to compel them to do their homework, clean dishes or wash their clothes.
If things get to a point where a child tests your patience beyond what you can bear, it’s better to send him or her away than committing a felony.
People may talk and call you names, but if you can’t put up with a dependent relative, it’s better to let them go than subject them to torture.
The essence of this article is not to condemn anyone, but rather for all of us to draw lessons from those who have been penalised for child abuse and, where need be, make amends.
Actually, it hurts me to see a mother or father of young children sent to jail. But then, thinking of the plight of victims, you would say it’s inevitable for the courts of law to send child abusers behind bars.
The truth is child abuse – both physical and psychological – in homes is a common practice, and women are the major culprits.
Some women go to the extent of rationing food for dependents and step-children. Others treat dependents like second-class citizens while lavishing their biological children with love and all material things within their reach.
What has happened to the spirit of Ubuntu that previously made us embrace orphans and vulnerable children in our families?
There are many people who have become somebodies in society today because the extended family was kind enough to keep them and send them to school.
That’s how we ought to live. There should be no first and second-class citizens in a home.
Mind you, the child you mistreat today could become a king tomorrow and probably have a better future than your own children.
This is why the Chewas say ‘Osunga mudzake sadziwika’, simplified as the future is unpredictable, you can’t know who is likely to have a better future and probably take care of you.
In a nutshell, I am saying we should not use brutal force to correct children.
Quite alright, the Bible in Proverbs 13:24 says: “Whoever spares the rod hates their children, but the one who loves their children is careful to discipline them.”
It’s from this scripture where we draw the maxim ‘Spare the rod and spoil the child’.
But no one should misuse this scripture to brutalise children.
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