A cry of outrage spread through news channels today because the police handcuffed and arrested a 5-year-old girl. Her mother had complained before at the girl’s school about the particular teacher, who caused the incident by taking away the Jellybeans the girl was using for a math project. The girl got angry and “acted out”.
But no one asked her in the video shown on TV why she was angry or what could be done to work out the conflict or help her feel better. Finally, the police was called. They not only put handcuffs on the girl and arrested her, but also did not let her mother get close to her child who was being held in the back of the police car, as her mother shared in a TV interview. They threatened the mother that she would be arrested, too, if she interfered.
The cry of outrage that a child of 5 years was treated so cruelly is understandable and justified. Yet, every day, all over this country and this world, children are treated with cruelty by their own parents and/or teachers—but there is no outrage on national TV. Corporal punishment is a widespread and widely accepted inhuman practice, although it is a barbaric and degrading treatment. No adult would want it applied to him or herself if s/he made a mistake or did not please powerful superiors. Several states in the USA still allow school children to be paddled.
Corporal punishment takes lives—for example in Texas in 2004, more children died than were claimed by the war in Iraq: 204 children died through the practice of corporal punishment. They died at the hands of those to whom their safety and care were entrusted. No camera observed how they were persecuted to their deaths.
Children can be arbitrarily punished by the absolute power that parents have over them. Any whim or reason, a contradiction, any mishap or “mistake” can become a justification for whatever a parent considers acceptable punishment, which all too often means physical violence towards the child. The problem is that most parents don’t see that as teaching their children the behavioral language of violence but as their, often even God-given, right to castigate.
In the 20th century, children must be entitled to the right of physical integrity. Their human dignity and need to imitate us as their role-models demand it, but also their emotional and physical safety. Corporal punishment puts children, every day, in mortal danger and has grave physical implications to a child’s small, vulnerable body and brain, and to a blossoming human soul and mind. What we call torture for prisoners and assault and battery when committed against adults, what we consider a monstrous practice against slaves, we allow to continue towards our children—the most vulnerable human beings.
One day, this horror will be as unthinkable as having slaves or banning women from voting or being protected in their marriage from physical violence. We need to let this cry of outrage for the handcuffed girl in Florida grow towards a legislation that protects the physical integrity of all children—like the law already grants it to children in 13 states on our planet. It does not change things overnight, but it is the beginning of a change in society’s consciousness—that the weak and vulnerable deserve our protection, understanding, compassion, forgiveness, and our humane, but never violent, guidance. Violent behavior does not speak or teach the language of love but brings violence and hatred into our world and brings out fear, submissive cowardice, or repressed hatred in those we spank, beat, whip, or degrade and humiliate in other ways.
In my book “Screams from Childhood” I show the child’s perspective that we so rarely are informed about. The scream ”Lies” describes what happens inside a beaten child. I think that every beaten and thus abused child wishes, his or her pain and ordeal would become national news and reason for protest and outrage.
© Barbara Rogers, April 2005