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Child correction & abuse: Where do you draw the line?

By Josephine Agbonkhese, Anino Aganbi & Chris Onuoha

THE concept of instilling ‘child discipline’ remains one of the most ambiguous vocabularies in the dictionary of parenting.

While parents, in the past, maximized to the optimum level the biblical assertion which warned that they risked having a totally recalcitrant child if they spared the rod, modern day parenting tends to be of totally different ideology—beat up the child and you worsen the situation.

But of course, not every 21st century parent is of this school of thought.

21st century parenting

In fact, talking about 21st century parenting, spanking a child has gone beyond being a tool of discipline.  Some mothers go as far as telling people not to spank their child, claiming no one knows what they went through in labour.

Some experts today have also labeled spanking as ineffective, and even dangerous, saying it only teaches a child to fear his parents and not to respect them.

Indeed, parenting is a very tough job which nobody has ever got a perfect hang of. But since children do not come attached with an instruction manual, parents learn on the go, adopting new methods every day.

With 21st century parenting, it is far more complicated because within and outside the home abound all sorts of influences, both negative and positive—including the television, internet and social media. Unlike in the past when parenting had less of external influences.

Back to the ambiguous concept of ‘child discipline’, the tendency to abuse its essence however still pervades the society, with parents who claim to be of the ‘spare the rod, spoil the child’ school of thought beating up children even to stupor . Where then do we draw the line between child correction and abuse?

Bunmi, a young mother of two, who spoke with Woman’s own, actually confessed that sometimes, the line between discipline and abuse could become very thin, hence her decision to ditch the cane.

“When my children do something that is wrong, I smack them on the bottom and lovingly tell them what it is they did wrong. That way, they will grow up knowing what is right and what is wrong, thereby being able to make proper decisions with time. I try very hard not take the cane.


Drawing the line

Speaking from the professional perspective was Mrs Ogunmolu Temi, a child protection specialist with the Child Department of the Lagos State Ministry for Women Affairs.

“You spare the rod and spoil the child does not mean you inflict injury on the child. Abuse is different from correction. Correcting a child is different from abusing a child. In the act of correction, one may abuse a child if not careful. When you say a child has done something wrong and you want to correct such child, and then you beat the child beyond normal, you have abused him or her. Then, the correction has turned to abuse.

“This is punishable by law because, you can’t say you are correcting a child and at the same time inflicting bruises on the child’s body. That means you are abusing the child and not correcting him or her.

“When you spare the rod, you spoil the child. But there is, to an extent at which you can use your rod on a child. If it is beyond normal, it turns to an abuse,” she explained.
Religious angle on spanking

With the level of child abuse unleashed under the guise of correction these days, one wonders what the opinions of religious leaders are on the concept of child discipline.

Speaking to Woman’s Own in this light was the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos Metropolis, His Grace, Most Rev. Dr. Alfred Adewale Martins.

Archbishop Martins who emphasized that the home should at all times be a unit for the formation of morals and values, said, “The home is the basic unit from which all the values are taught and learned. If the home is set right, every other thing falls in place.

“God approves chastise to correct erring children if applied in a right way. However, parents need to be upright in manners and exhibit characters that children should emulate.  They should also create more time to be at home and take care of their children, follow up on what they are doing in school and ensure that they attend religious education in churches or schools where good morals and values are taught.”

Speaking bluntly in support of spanking as a mode of correction, Rev. Fr. Michael Etegene of St. Augustine’s Catholic Church, Iba Estate, Lagos said: “When a child misbehaves, it is the duty of the parents to correct that child and spanking is one of them. You don’t just spank in annoyance. You should spank to correct them out of love and should also let them know why you are doing that. It is sad that in advanced countries, it is different. Children are spared while the rod is spoilt. You can check out the level of decadence going on there. A child can easily pick up the phone and call 911 for being spanked or even scolded for wrong doing. It is wrong and not good for our own society here, but parents must ensure that lines are drawn between spanking and abuse, and between anger and love.”

Spanking should be a last resort- Sheik Abdurrahman Ahmed

Speaking from the Islamic point-of-view was the President, Ansar-ud- Deen Society of Nigeria, Sheik Abdurrahman Ahmed.

“As far as Islam is concerned, children should be “spanked”. However, anything that could leave a mark on a child, anything that is durably cruel and wicked, should not be resorted to while trying to correct a child. Spanking could be more symbolic and it should be the last resort.  Parenting is about caring, loving and being very considerate. It is not about cruelty and it is not about wickedness. If I say spanking is omitted, I am saying it is permitted to be highly discouraged. It should not be resorted to except in very extreme conditions.

When parents have to resort to spanking, it must be done in such a manner that it doesn’t inflict injuries. It must not send a child to the hospital because the overall aim is correction and character molding. I must also state that sometimes, spanking as a last resort is either the failure of the parents—which is more often than not—or the recalcitrance of the child. And also, everything boils down to the kind of environment that is created for child rearing. A child should be motivated to be compliant rather than being forced to comply.
Children with violent tendencies

Speaking on dealing with children with violent tendencies, he continued: “In my own generation, we were brought up differently from the way we are bringing up our children now. When our parents punished us, it was not a displacement of aggression. It was not because they were taking their frustrations out on us. We knew that when they had to spank us, we were convinced that we had at some point gone overboard because that would have been preceded by several warnings. So, when we did things that warranted spanking, we knew.

“However, the Islamic or the African way of child bringing is different from the western conception of child upbringing. Islam takes a middle of the road approach to child upbringing; no displacement of aggression, no wickedness, but you know from what you see in the west that in schools, teachers must not shout or spank; and you see what the children have turned out to be.

In America, they do not spank their children, so how, why and under what circumstances did they become violent? It is not spanking or correcting or being firm with children that makes them develop violent tendencies. It is deprivation that is responsible because we have seen in the society that most of the children that are brought up liberally tend to deviate and constitute menace to the society.”

While the argument for and against spanking persists, and the search for a consensus on where exactly to draw the line between correction and abuse, there is therefore no gainsaying, from the views of our various respondents, that, for better results, spanking should be administered with absolute caution, if it must be administered at all.


Comments expressed here do not reflect the opinions of vanguard newspapers or any employee thereof.