JAMAICA, WE DO NOT OWN OUR CHILDREN

Call me slow but I just watched the movie 12 Years A Slave. I usually watch popular movies months after the furor of pop culture. Never really saw myself as one of those ‘ must see’ crowds, I watch at my own pace, devoid of all the street  reviews and I usually come away with my own interpretation and or dislike of what  I had just seen.

Needless to say I enjoyed it but there was a particular scene that hit me in the stomach.  I had to pinch myself to remind me that it is a movie, only a movie. But the scene was powerful, depressing and poignant. The scene was the whipping scene of Patsey, played by Lupita Nyong’o. Her owner/lover was furious with her as he thought she had run away from the plantation. In fact she only went to get soap, yes soap to wash her dirty skin. Her owner, played by Michael Fassbender , brutally whipped her . He whipped her so hard her flesh curled from her body. For me it was the most tragic scene in the movie and then the recent NFL story of star running back Adrian Peterson and the alleged beating of his son brought me back to the scene in the movie. It also made me think of the centuries old tradition of corporal punishment  in Jamaica.

Watching the local TVJ there is one item of news that gives me the chills. Every day there is a minimum of 4 missing persons listed on the TV screen, of which 80% are young girls no older than 14 year old.  Every day this happens.  I checked the stats on missing or abused children in Jamaica and was shocked to see the results:.

More than 8,000 cases of child abuse were reported between January and August this year, according to the Office of the Children’s Advocate (OCA) which also revealed that it is contacted every 30 minutes with an allegation of ill-treatment.                                     (Jamaica Observer  12/2013)

This list comprises of physical, emotional, sexual and missing children. WoW. In this country there is something called ‘Growing up the Jamaican Way”. In essence as a child you go through a strict regimental upbringing, almost military, accompanied by beating or flogging and for very bad incidents you get  the mandatory ‘buss yu  a#$”,  which in reality means you are punished so bad, you never dare do what you did in the first place.  Beating in Jamaica is a cultural tradition. At least 90% of children in Jamaica  have experienced corporal punishment,

Corporal punishment has also become an intrinsic part of the educational system, from primary to even some Colleges. I remembered going to Cornwall College in the 80s and caning was the desired choice of punishment for males, some 16 years old. Imagine a 15 or 16 year old getting caned for whatever reason. From the other spectrum lets take the case of Kensington Primary in Kingston  that literally beat the kids to learn. Imagine you beating a child because in the estimation of the teacher,  they are slow and not ‘picking up’ the  learning as is commonly said.

In 2009 when the then Education minister called for the abolition of corporal punishment it was met with refusal from the teachers and parents!

“Corporal punishment in schools has been a much talked- about topic, particularly since 2009 when former minister of education Andrew Holness issued an order for schools to end the practice.  However, Holness’s announcement was also met with mixed reactions from education sector stakeholders with some parents and school principals arguing that his position was flawed and could not hold up in court, as a teacher is justified in administering moderate and reasonable corporal punishment under common law.”                                        ( Jamaica Observer 11/2012)

Now lets put this into perspective. Teachers are declaring they have the right , through common law, to hit your child in what they refer to as ‘moderate and reasonable’  under what they term ‘common law”. The thought of this is almost sickening to stomach much less read. Going to school seems like going to prison with your child experiencing  a multitude of emotions. Some may be able to deal with it but others will not.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), corporal punishment can impair a child’s lifelong physical and mental health. “Extreme stress can impair the development of the nervous and immune systems. Consequently, as adults, maltreated children are at increased risk for behavioural, physical and mental health problems such as perpetrating or being a victim of violence, depression, smoking, obesity, high-risk sexual behaviours, unintended pregnancy, alcohol and drug misuse.” ( Jamaica Observer 11/2012)

Does the end justifies the means? Is corporal punishment creating a society more disciplined or productive? Here is another report  recently published in the Gleaner.

“A recent study by Professor Fred Hickling of the University of the West Indies has revealed that almost one-half the population suffer from varying degrees of personality disorders..” (Observer January 2011))

One Half. That is nearly 900,000 people. Mental illness in Jamaica , referred to as ‘madness”, is a social derogatory term that prevents those suffering from declaring themselves ill and needing treatment. Jamaica is miles beyond understanding and accepting mental disorders. It is beyond their comprehension. Frankly the society is not educated to the level of understanding social dilemmas and its effects on productivity. It can also be argued that Jamaicans can never relate the act of corporal punishment to mental illness or its effects on personality disorders. I can only regard this indifference to one of the side effects of slavery that unfortunately has not been eradicated from the subconscious of Jamaicans. Yet Jamaicans question why is crime so high, why are we regarded as a third world country, why is Jamaica a joke amongst other Caribbean nations? Why are so many of our people below the poverty line? Why is our rate of illiteracy so high?

I started to wonder how it all began? Whose idea was it to put a ‘beating’ on children  the aim of which was to instill ‘discipline’? This has been one of the many challenges we face as humans growing up our young ones. Every culture has its own form of managing its young to move from childhood to maturity. I can certainly remember my days of growing up. My parents were fairly strict and hovered like a hawk when my sister and I stepped out the house. We would get the occasional ‘whopping’ when we did stupid things and it was my intention that never again would I go through that experience. I remembered the whopping more  than anything else  my parents were trying to get across to me. The memory of the whopping made me chose positively in most cases, the correct decision,  when faced with a choice.  I looked and could not find the answer to my question of who were the first? Who was responsible for this tradition of ‘beating a child’ and inflicting punishment until the answer came to me when I listened to Dr Shefali Tsabary  on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday?

Not a Mini Me 

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The birth of a baby is a phenomenai thing. It is still the greatest mystery of life. From her perspective of modern parenting Dr Shefali Tsabary reminded the viewers who a baby really is.

This baby is in fact not a mini mom and dad, but really  an independent human that will grow up with their own personality, characteristics, talents, intelligence and every human trait imaginable. The baby can be likened to an empty vessel , ready to be filled with influences, cultures and traditions which can only be obtained from the  parents and siblings and also the village where they were born. I deduced that it is the ongoing filling and refilling of the vessel that is in fact the ‘discipline’ that is crucial to that human growing up to be who they are.

Children are Humans

Wow. I was enlightened. To me the question was answered. The starting point of ‘beating’ started from the beginning of mankind. But the message Dr. Shefali was advocating was a hard thing to swallow for many parent. Parents believe their kids are them, little mini me’s and when they grow up they must be like mom and dad, even if they must beat it out of them.  Dr Shefali says no. I too say no. Children are humans, not little Legos you create, but humans with their own divine destiny and creativity.

“…it’s so crucial that, as parents, we free ourselves from the illusion that its our place to approve of who our children are. Who are we to judge them?” Dr. Shefali continues with this:   “Just by the fact that they draw breath, they have the right to speak their mind, express their feelings, and embody their spirit.” 

Just think about it. Every child grow up to live their own destiny. Yes mom and dad may be happy and feel disposed to the fact that it was their ‘discipline’ and guidance that shaped their child into who they have become. To a certain extent they are. But as Dr Shefali says the ego of parents is the reason for many disjointed family as they seek to control their kids, to force them to be who they want them to be.

In our case, parents feel disappointed in their child’s  behaviour and they feel that their reflection was not mirrored in them. Parents feel  neglected, disappointed,  they go through a lack of security, all their actions seemed to have gone unnoticed and unappreciated. So out of anger they beat” their  child with the hope of ‘beating’ into them their  desire for them  to be like Mom, like Dad, like their sister, like their brother. They beat them to learn, to do homework or whatever the reason they have , they will beat their child.  The parents and teachers by extension suffer from one thing-parental surrender. They surrender to self defeat, they surrender to life’s failure. They live in fear and with all good intentions they believe that forcing their children to do what  they perceive is correct to do, is  the right thing. It’s parenting out of fear.

The problem is children will never forget the beating or suffering. That child will grow to be who he ought to be and will in jest or in anger forgive or not forgive their parents. I certainly did. I remembered my whopping but luckily I forgave my parents and harboured no grudge.

But the real question is  how many children in Jamaica now live with utmost disdain for their parent? How many Jamaicans are now violent when dealing with their own kids? How many Jamaicans are now suffering from the effects of constant beating and are now manifesting its effects on other Jamaicans or beating their girl friends, their wives and/ or  committing crimes? This is the result of research done by Philip Greven of End Corporal Punishment:

The evidence that corporal punishment is harmful to children, adults and societies is overwhelming. The more than 150 studies included in the Global Initiative’s review of research on the effects of corporal punishment show associations between corporal punishment and a wide range of negative outcomes, including:

  • direct physical harm
  • negative impacts on mental and physical health
  • poor moral internalisation
  • increased aggression in children
  • increased perpetration and experience of violence in adults
  • increased antisocial behaviour
  • poor cognitive development
  • damaged family relationships

“We need to decide now – person by person, family by family, church by church, community by community, state by state, nation by nation – to embrace non-violent methods of discipline which can begin to reshape our lives, our consciousness, and our world, and to alter the course of our future and the future of generations yet to come”.
Philip Greven,

“All negative  behaviour is a manifestation of hurt feelings” Dr. Shefali

We cannot be hard on our parents way of discipline.  They will tell you its tradition and they were brought up that way so they are only doing what they know . But what most parents forget is like everything else, times change, people change and parenting has changed. As Dr Shefali says “our children are not the problem, our unconsciousness is..”  We, parents must empty ourselves of this fear of the unknown. We must seek to give our child the strength and encouragement of who they are meant to be. With our experience and guidance influence their decision but realizing their decision will be ultimately theirs.  We do not own our children. We created them. They are our responsibility. But whilst they may be a creation in our likeness, we must also remember that they are a creation of a higher being whose journey, written in the stars, is their destiny and more powerful than our parenting will ever be.

© Paul Tomlinson 2014

I invite you to watch an interview with Dr.Shefali Tsabary

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