Friday 16 September 2011

Corporal punishment against children: Is it necessary?

I think that anyone over twenty years of age can remember the days when they were spanked by their parents and those over the age of forty can remember when children in school were either strapped on their hands or whipped with a cane on their buttocks if they were considered bad by their teachers.

Adults and educators who believed that social order, good behaviour, and moral development felt that they had to regularly use the cane and the strap as disciplinary instruments. Many parents used their hands either on their child’s buttocks or worse yet, on their faces. At the other end of the spectrum were those who felt that physical discipline constituted, or would lead to, the abuse of children. The Toronto Board of Education pioneered the abolition of corporal punishment in 1971 in Ontario. In most other Canadian jurisdictions, the strap continued to be an important instrument in the teacher’s disciplinary arsenal until the 1990s. It was not until 2004 that the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that corporal punishment was an unreasonable application of force in the maintenance of classroom discipline and that put an end to it.

For those of you who were never strapped on the hands, let me tell you what it felt like when you were strapped. The teacher or whoever was holding the strap in his or her hand would swing the strap down hard on your hand and your hand, especially your fingers would immediately felt numb. Generally you would get four whacks on each hand. Those wielding the strap took great care not to hit your writs lest they burst a blood vessel in your wrist. After you were strapped, the pain would linger on for about ten minutes and later the numbness would go away.

Years ago when I was addressing the Justice Committee of the Ontario Legislature about corporal punishment, I referred to an incident when I was a child at school and I was strapped and the teacher missed my hand and the strap carried on downward and hit her knee. Then I watched her do what I called, the strapping dance as she suffered from the pain she accidently inflicted on herself. I couldn’t stop laughing so she added four more straps to my hands for my insolence.

I remember being caned on my buttocks once at a private school. The headmaster gave me the option of picking the cane I was to be caned with. There were three canes of different thicknesses. They were; thin, medium and heavy. I chose the medium one. I imagine it hurt just as much as the other two would have had I chosen on of them.

When I was very small, my mother would turn me over her knee and spank me. Then a relative on a farm gave her a thin leather strap from the horse barn and she doubled it over and used it on my hands and my buttocks about four or five times.

As I got older, I forgave her for punishing me that way. After all, she was stuck with caring for two fatherless brats and sometimes, she would be totally frustrated at what we had done. She hadn’t learned the technique of bribing her offspring to get them to behave. I would have succumbed to anything she wanted had I been bribed. I would have even behaved myself.

There was a horrible case that took place in the US that bears retelling. One of the alleged victims was a 14-year-old boy. From a pay phone on July 20, 2009, he reported that his parents regularly beat him and several of his six siblings. Their parents, he said, struck them with wires, branches and belts for wearing makeup and getting a fake tattoo.

Police quickly arrested Oleksandr and Lyudmila Kozlov (the parents) and placed the children, who ranged in age from newborn to 15 years, into foster care. The couple was eventually sentenced to seven years in prison and later stripped of most parental rights. The Kozlovs denied wrongdoing.

News of the case spread through their community in the US sparking outrage. Yet one subset of the community sprang to the Kozlovs' defense, holding demonstrations, filling the gallery at court hearings and flooding state officials with letters.
Many of these supporters, Russian-born Christians like the Kozlovs themselves, believed the parents were disciplining their children according to Biblical law. In their view, the government was out to "destroy the family because of their faith," says Tatyana I. Bondarchuk, a counselor who helped brief authorities about the group.

Oregon is now home to about 150,000 evangelical Christians from the former Soviet Union. They were able to emigrate to the U.S. under the same law designed to help Soviet Jews escape religious persecution. The group, which hails largely from the Ukraine, subscribes to a literal interpretation of the Bible, including corporal punishment.

At the time of his arrest, Oleksandr Kozlov, 42, was jobless and collecting unemployment benefits. He had worked in a factory that made the leather straps he allegedly used in several beatings. His 40-year-old wife, Lyudmila, stayed at home taking care of the children. Life revolved around the small Russian-speaking Evangelical Christian Baptist Church of Salem, one of several Slavic Christian congregations in the area. They had virtually no contact with Americans, according to social workers and other community members.

Dmitriy Kozlov was in bed one morning in July 2009 when his mother spotted a temporary tattoo on his right arm, he testified in court. He said she grabbed an iron and began lashing his arm with the electrical cord, leaving multiple bruises.

A few days later, Mrs. Kozlov noticed that her oldest child, Tatyana, 15, and her second daughter, Yekaterina, 13, had trimmed their hair without permission while she had been in the hospital giving birth to her seventh child. Mrs. Kozlov whipped the teenagers, leaving extensive bruises on their arms, backs and legs, Tatyana testified in court.

"Tired of our parents hitting us," as she said in court, the three oldest Kozlov children hatched a plan. One July evening, when their father was out and their mother was asleep, they snuck out of the house, found a pay phone and made that 911 call.

The next day, police and social workers took into protective custody the other four Kozlov children, including baby Lilya, then eight days old. Mr. and Mrs. Kozlov were arrested and held on charges of criminal mistreatment. The case was a top story in the local news.

News of the arrests spread quickly in the Slavic Christian community. On Russian-language websites and blogs, the removal of the children from their parents was depicted as the U.S. destroying a family and a violation of human rights. A fund was established to raise money for the Kozlovs' bail.

Hundreds of Russian-speaking Baptists, including some from California and Washington, descended on Salem, where they remained for several weeks. They marched on the state Capitol, demanding a meeting with Gov. Ted Kulongoski. His staff told them he couldn't intervene.

They held vigils outside Marion County's courthouse, where the case would be heard. Their signs read, "Don't Destroy Our Families" and, "Stop Unlawful Action Against Kozlovs."

The Kozlovs were released from jail on August 5th, 2009 after surrendering their passports and posting bail. Pending trial, they were eventually given custody of their infant daughter, subject to government oversight. But they weren't allowed physical contact with their other six children, who were in foster care with an American family in Salem.

The allegations opened up a difficult conversation between the Slavic Christians and the mainstream. Kozlov supporters said corporal punishment was a parental duty condoned by the Bible; some even questioned the veracity of the Kozlov children's accounts.

Michael Arnautov, a neighbor of the Kozlov family and a community leader, recalls asking reporters: "Who will explain us the American law? Until what point can we discipline our kids?"

Amid the uproar, there were tentative steps towards mutual understanding. In response to Mr. Arnautov's request for guidance, the county sheriff's department contacted his church and offered to hold an informational session. They agreed on a Wednesday, when church services are normally held.

On August 19, 2009, roughly 750 Slavic Christians packed the First Slavic Baptist church for a forum on U.S. law and parental rights. For three hours, members put questions to the district attorney, state child-welfare officials and law-enforcement officers with the help of a Russian-language interpreter.

Among the questions from the floor: "How can I keep my child from smoking if I can't beat him or her?" "What are parents supposed to do when a child, particularly a teenager, is disobedient?"

"The difference between discipline and abuse is lasting injury," Jason Walling, an official with the Department of Human Services, told the audience.

Hoping the Kozlov family could be reunited, Oregon officials in September appointed a Russian psychologist in Portland to evaluate them and offer counseling. The attempts proved futile. “They didn't want to talk about being better parents. They would say, 'Bible says it's O.K. to spank children,'" says Olga Parker, the psychologist.

Mrs. Parker, who interviewed six of the Kozlov children, later testified in court that none of them wanted to return home. One child said she wished that a fairy would whisk her away, according to Mrs. Parker.

The trial opened December 1st, 2009. Six out of the seven Kozlov children testified, with direct translation provided to their parents by Russian interpreters. Hundreds of community members crowded the Marion Circuit County courtroom.

Tatyana, the eldest, testified that all the children in her family had been beaten, except the baby. The 14-year-old Dmitriy testified that he was once "whipped" so badly with a leather strap by his father that he had to skip school to allow the injuries to heal.

In their closing arguments, the Kozlovs again cited the Bible as justification for their actions. "The law of God is in disciplining children. It's not any less than the law of the United States," Mr. Kozlov said.

On December 4th, the jury found Mr. and Mrs. Kozlov each guilty of nine counts of criminal mistreatment. Five days later, the judge sentenced them each to seven years and three months. All seven children were placed in foster care with relatives
At the meeting, on March 9th 2010, Mr. Arnautov represented a softened community stance. He told law-enforcement officials and council members that most didn't agree with harsh corporal punishment to discipline children. Only a small, vocal minority still supported what Mr. and Mrs. Kozlov did, he said. "We just want to raise our kids the right way and grow up well in this country," he summed up.

On September 23rd 2010, Mr. and Mrs. Kozlov shuffled into a courtroom in Salem, shackled and in prison garb for a hearing on the state's motion to terminate their parental rights.

The judge terminated the Kozlov couple's parental rights to the three youngest children, freeing them for adoption by relatives. The four older children will remain in foster care with the same family.

Mr. Arnautov, the voice of the Slavic Christians, says he believes "justice was delivered," adding that most of the community had changed their opinion about the case. "It was a good, good lesson."

An Italian tourist was convicted in Sweden for pulling his son's hair when he refused to go into Stockholm restaurant, officials said.

Giovanni Colasante, 46, a local politician form Canosa di Puglia in southern Italy was fined $990 for violating Sweden's laws against corporal punishment, the Swedish news agency TT reported.

Colasante was arrested on August 23rd after patrons at a restaurant in the historic Gamla Stan district called police. A witnesses told the Aftonbladet newspaper the man lifted his son up by the hair.

Sweden, which banned corporal punishment in 1979, has been criticized in Italian media over the case, TT said. Italy bans corporal punishment in school, but not in the home.

Section 43 of the Canadian Criminal Code reads as follows:

Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using force by way of correction toward a pupil or child, as the case may be, who is under his care, if the force does not exceed what is reasonable under the circumstances. unquote

The key word is ‘reasonable’. There is a fine line between the distinction. While acknowledging that abuse itself is never justified, some people have argued that minor physical correction is acceptable in certain circumstances and that individuals should not risk criminal prosecution as a result of their parenting techniques if the method of physical correction is reasonable.

In 1991, Canada ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, article 19 of which mandates the protection of children from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse. In response to reports from Canada regarding the action it has taken to meet the requirements of the Convention, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child recommended that physical punishment of children in schools and families be prohibited and that s. 43 be removed. At the same time, international covenants recognize the integrity of the family unit and indicate that parents have the primary responsibility for the upbringing and development of the child.

Bill S-209 amended clause 1, on page 1, by replacing line 5 with the following:
“repealed and replaced by the following:

43. (1) Every schoolteacher, parent or person standing in the place of a parent is justified in using reasonable force other than corporal punishment toward a child who is under their care if the force is used only for the purpose of
(a) preventing or minimizing harm to the child or another person;
(b) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in conduct that is of a criminal nature; or
(c) preventing the child from engaging or continuing to engage in excessively offensive or disruptive behaviour.

(2) In subsection (1), “reasonable force” means an application of force that is transitory and minimal in the circumstances”.

In many cultures, parents have historically been regarded as having the duty of disciplining their children, and the right to spank them when appropriate. Since 1979, 29 countries around the world (at 2010) have outlawed domestic corporal punishment of children. In Europe, 22 countries have banned the practice. And in many other places the practice is considered controversial. In Africa, the Middle East, and in most parts of Eastern Asia (including China, Taiwan, Japan, and Korea), corporal punishment of one's own children is lawful. In Singapore and Hong Kong, punishing one's own child with corporal punishment is legal but not particularly encouraged.

Those in favour of spanking argue that, in certain circumstances, a strike on the bum or the hand is acceptable, and parents shouldn't be at risk of criminal prosecution if they choose to spank their children. Those who oppose spanking as a form of discipline say that, in modern democratic societies, hitting a child — in any circumstance — is unacceptable. Not only does it encourage violence, they argue, it is an affront to human dignity.

I don’t really know (and I doubt anyone else knows for sure) if spanking a small child when it is under four years of age, will have a detrimental effect on its behavior when it gets older. Certainly a child won’t remember the event as it is buried deep in its memory.

In Canada, the law allows parents and caregivers to use force in very specific situations — such as a small smack to the hand to stop a child who is about to do something dangerous or harmful. But routine discipline and the use of spanking as premeditated punishment isn’t allowed.

The only time I remember my mother smacking me on my hand was when I was seven years of age. I had a boil on the back of my hand at that time and when she smacked my hand, the boil burst and hurt like hell. I screamed in pain and when she saw what she had done, she immediately hugged me and told me how sorry she was for having smacked me.

My father smacked me in the face once when I was sitting at the table. I was eleven then. The impact was so great; it knocked me to the floor. He didn’t apologize. I didn’t expect one from him in any case.

The only time I spanked one of my children was when she was four years of age. She had pinched her six-month old sister for no reason at all. I didn’t really spank her hard as it was more symbolic however it worked. She didn’t pinch her sister again.

I think there are better ways to discipline children than spanking them on their buttocks. Eventually as time moves on, spanking and strapping children will go the way of the Dodo bird—hopefully.

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