By Berna Iskandar
I say, “Raise your hand if you approve of child abuse,” and, unsurprisingly, no one’s hand goes up. But then, when I say, “Now, please raise your hand if you approve of a quick spanking to discipline your children,” more than sixty percent of the audience supports the idea. The talks that I give in Venezuela on parenting without violence usually begin this way. Without a doubt, it’s a foolproof acid test that highlights the perspective on childhood held by certain groups, with the same result tending to crop up across the planet.
I recently had the honor of interviewing Dr. Carlos González, Spanish pediatrician, advisor to La Leche League International, and author of the bestseller Bésame Mucho. He commented that passage of the law prohibiting the corporal punishment of children unleashed a heated debate in Spain, and he received an invitation to participate in a radio program focusing on the topic. During the program, the renowned pediatrician heard complaints from parents and professionals who alleged that the government had no right to interfere in families’ decisions on how to raise their children. Those who know Dr. González are aware that what sets him apart is an ability to deftly wield his sparkling, incisive wit, with which he wastes no time in tearing down the childrearing myths placed before him. His response to these arguments against the law was, “Of course, you’re all quite right. If we allow the State to prohibit us from hitting our child, the next thing you know, they’ll outlaw wife beating too…” The noted pediatrician paused, inviting reflection, and then added, “Let’s see…does it seem normal to hit your wife, your husband, an employee, or a waiter because he gave us bad service? No. That’s because civilized people don’t hit others. But hitting your own son or daughter, a vulnerable, defenseless child who depends on you for protection…that seems okay to you?” Ah, well that’s crystal clear.
Certainly, we’ve made significant progress in terms of technology, science and human rights, yet most adults still don’t view or treat their children as individuals with full legal rights. And I’m not just talking about parents who approve of hitting their children, but also specialists such as pediatricians, psychologists, and judges, all of whom validate physical punishment and other treatment that, in principle, would be considered unacceptable for any adult.
In 2010, according to Save the Children, laws in 168 countries throughout the world still allow for the use of corporal punishment in the home. Not much has changed since then. Even in some countries that legally prohibit it, few penalize it, and they advocate a slippery legal and psychological slope that establishes a difference between physical punishment and abuse, according to the intensity or intention with which the child or adolescent is hit.
For me, there’s no difference.There’s no justification whatsoever for hitting a child. If we’re unable to recognize on an emotional level that hitting a child is abuse and violence, then we need to seek help.
There’s no such thing as spanking at the right time, but there are parents and adults who need guidance on how to raise their kids without mistreating them.
Berna Iskandar is a communications specialist and Venezuelan mother. She produces and hosts a radio program where she reflects on issues related to parenting, fatherhood and motherhood. In 2013, she won the blogger contest “Speak up for the Littlest Ones” organized by First Steps.