Corporal punishment: discipline or abuse
There appears to be a thin line between domestic corporal punishment of children and physical abuse, writes Ria Mae Verdolaga, a medical student at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine. Ria Mae, together with her other fellow “sisters” in the Mu Sigma Phi sorority have authored a comprehensive dissertation the subject which will be published in the September issue of H&L (Health & Lifestyle) magazine.
Corporal punishment involves inflicting pain on a child by a parent or guardian in the home by spanking or slapping, or occasionally with an implement such as belt, slipper, cane or paddle. In our country, our culture still considers it as part of parental responsibility to discipline the child. According to a study conducted by Save the Children Philippines, a nongovernmental organization crusading against child abuse, Filipino children experience punishment at home 85 percent of the time and that 65 percent of them have received spanking as a form of punishment.
Not only do the majority of Filipino children experience unreasonable corporal punishment, they are also subjected to verbal or emotional punishment, such as being scolded and humiliated in front of other people. This, no doubt, leaves a lasting imprint that can impact the child’s behavior when they grow up. In a 1996 study, the researchers reported that children who experience corporal punishment are more likely to become angry as adults, and also use spanking as a form of disciplining their own children. They have more tendency to strike their spouses, and experience marital discord. In another study, it was also similarly reported that children who receive corporal punishment may resort to more physical aggression, substance abuse, crime and violence later on in their lives.
Dr. Stella Guerrero-Manalo, a developmental pediatrician and director of the UP-Philippine General Hospital Child Protection Unit (UP-PGH CPU), advocates against corporal punishment, emphasizing that it cannot be delineated from physical abuse of children. She considers it as abusive and infringing on a child’s right to human dignity. “If you treat children like dirt, they wouldn’t know how to treat other people with dignity,” Dr. Manalo says in an interview with Ria Mae.
Domestic corporal punishment is now outlawed in close to 30 countries and our local legislators would like to do the same in our country. In the 15th Congress, a bill was filed banning corporal punishment, including other forms of humiliating and
degrading punishment for children.
Should we totally ban corporal punishment? “One has to wonder though how this method of disciplining children has survived to this day if it tramples on people’s dignity,” Ria Mae comments. There seems to be no question that as a form of discipline, it is quite effective. Ria Mae cites a pooled analysis of 88 studies done over 62 years showing that the use of corporal punishment for instilling discipline in children results in immediate compliance in correcting whatever behavior their parents wanted changed. “This was, however, the only desirable effect that they found to be associated with corporal punishment,” explained Ria Mae explains. “There are more undesirable effects associated with this form of punishment, including effects on the child and her/his development, personal relationships, and relationship with the society,” she adds.
A newer research including children from China, India, Italy, Kenya, Thailand and the Philippines supports this meta-analysis and found that, in addition to corporal punishment, expressing disappointment, shaming or ridicule were also associated with increased child anxiety causing psychological problems such as an inferiority complex. The study also shows that parent-child relationship is compromised by corporal punishment. According to a local research, parents who use corporal punishment noticed that their children have actually become “distant, dazed, afraid and stunned.”
Defeat its own purpose
Experts also explain that corporal punishment defeat its own purpose of teaching children what is right and wrong, since it actually reduces a child’s “moral internalization and even results in increased child aggression.” Furthermore, corporal punishment increases the child’s delinquent and antisocial behavior which may extend into adulthood. And the whole cycle repeats itself. “As an adult, a child who experienced corporal punishment is also more likely to abuse her/his own child or spouse,” Ria Mae says.
To curb physical, mental and emotional abuse of children passed off as a parental disciplinary prerogative, Dr. Manalo reiterates a change in parental mindset. In our society, Dr. Manalo laments that children are seen and treated by some parents as properties and not as people. “Corporal punishment is basically the result of parents letting out their anger,” she explains, “because parents view their children not as humans like themselves but as properties, so for them it is perfectly alright to spank and throw expletives at their children.”
Experts like Dr. Manalo warn that inflicting pain or injury, fear and intimidation on children will result in lasting negative behavioral effects on these children, especially if the reason for which they were punished is not properly explained to them.
Although Dr. Manalo is definitely against corporal punishment, she has her concerns regarding any law penalizing parents for inflicting corporal punishment on their children. We might just end up with thousands of children without parents as they have already been imprisoned as a consequence of the law, Dr. Manalo says in jest. She emphasizes that what we need instead are “programs that would educate parents how to be parents.” She suggests that parenting classes could be added to the prerequisites before being able to get marriage license. Considering that one reason corporal punishment is still being used is the perceived lack of alternatives, Dr. Manalo therefore thinks it imperative to institute ways to make alternatives be known and accessible to them through parental education.
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