Beaten with a belt, wooden spoon, shoe, tree branch and a cane, kneeling down on rough sand with the sun beaming in my face, ear pulling, food withdraw and being hit with a ruler, were some of the methods of discipline I experienced when growing up in Africa. I experienced some of these forms of discipline listed above and observed others going through similar experiences or worse methods of discipline. Such methods of discipline are the norms for many people from ethnic communities.
Schools had a right to discipline you, your next door neighbour had a right to discipline you, your friend’s parents had a right to discipline you and anyone older than you had a right to discipline you when I was growing up in Africa.
If you grow up in a particular culture were such methods of chastisement are acceptable, you do not know any better and therefore do not think there are other methods of discipline. You learn to accept what is practiced and deal with what is presented to you.
I became exposed to the terminology “abuse” when I migrated to the UK. I recall the first time I encountered an incident whereby a student began shouting at a teacher in my year 7 class who did nothing. I remember feeling confused and gazing in disbelieve as the teacher just stood there and did nothing.
Over the years I have analysed some of my childhood experiences and have been reasoning about whether what I experienced back home was “abuse” or not as this terminology was non – existent in my community.
I mean, how can you classify something as abuse if you do not know the term abuse yet alone the definition of abuse?
Sadly, this is the reality for a lot of people from BME communities. Methods of discipline within these communities often causes significant harm to children but yet, disregarded as abuse due to the acceptance created within our communities regrading physical chastisement.
Although physical chastisement or any form of punishment that causes significant harm to a child is classified as child abuse in the UK, why is physical punishment a popular choice of discipline within many BME communities in the UK? I have concluded that this is due to the following 3 reasons:
- Most perpetrators have migrated to the UK but still hold their cultural believes and values. For this reason, physical chastisement is a popular choice for discipline and might be seen as a cultural matter and not abuse.
- Most perpetrators form BME communities do not understand the terminology “abuse” and are not aware about UK legislations and persecutions for child abuse.
- Most perpetrators do not see this as abuse because they experienced it too and “turned out fine”.
Significant harm caused to a child requires immediate action by the local authority (social services). Within the UK, it is an offence to cause harm to a child. A parent can be charged with a criminal offence if they harm their child under specific legislations:
- Section 18 and 20 under the Person Act 1861 (wounding and causing grievous bodily harm)
- Section 47 of the Person Act 1861 (assault occasioning actual bodily harm)
- Section 1 of the Children and Young Persons Act 1933 (cruelty to persons under 16)
- Section 58 of the Children Act 2004/ 1989
I have concluded that, what I experienced was abused as the mentality behind the individuals who Initiated and exhibited this way of “discipline” was to cause me pain to prevent me from repeating my mistakes. Other methods of discipline (Sanctions, timeout, withdrawal of items, rewarding good behaviour, clarity about boundaries etc) would have helped me recognised my mistakes without causing me pain.
Nevertheless, I am aware that in deprived communities where individuals may not have the luxury of having certain items (i.e., phones, iPad’s, Xbox etc) withdrawal may not be an appropriate method of discipline.
It is okay to want the best for your children, it is okay to discipline your children, it is okay to correct your children but if the mentality behind the way you discipline is to cause pain to your child then it is not okay
After years of abuse, children will become desensitised to certain methods of discipline, when this happens enforcers might presume that, a child is stubborn and will find harsher ways to discipline leaving not just physical scars but trauma and emotional scars.
I am now aware that extreme forms of punishment causes more damage than good. I will not participate or support any form of “discipline” that causes pain to a child as the long term effect can be traumatic and damaging.
Families need to educate themselves about what the UK law says about (Children Act 1989) abuse and learn about safer methods of disciplining their children.
Pamela, Hampshire UK