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Smacking Children is unacceptable, ZCEA tells the Pope

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Judith Mulenga

Judith Mulenga

pope-francis-600Zambia Civic Education Association (ZCEA), an NGO that promotes and advocates for children’s rights has told the Pope that smacking children is unacceptable.

Pope Francis last week stirred up a hornet’s nest with remarks in which he said it’s OK for parents to spank children, so long as they do it with dignity.

The comments came in his general audience Wednesday in St. Peter’s Square, when Francis was talking about the importance of a good father within a family.

“I once heard at a wedding a father say, ‘I sometimes have to hit my children a little but never in the face, so as to not demean them.’ How nice, I thought, he has a sense of dignity,” the Pope said.

But ZCEA Executive Director Judith Mulenga in a statement below to Zambian Eye said smacking children is violence and a violation of children’s rights.

Smacking children is violence against children and therefore a violation of their rights. It does not matter what form or shape or strength it comes in, it is still violence.

No dignity is bestowed on a person by hitting them. Therefore, the Pope’s okaying smacking is unfortunate and flies in the face of child rights principles and standards. Article 19 and 37 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child prohibits any form of violence against children.

The Convention on the Rights of the Child is ratified by all countries in the world including the Vatican City itself except for the USA. Furthermore, the 2006 UN Study on Violence against Children identified smacking as one of the commonest type of violence against children.

The study also identified smacking as the entry point of all forms of violence against children as it is the first instance of abuse that a child first comes across when it arrives in this World. And other studies have further shown that smacking a child sends a signal to the neurons of the smacker that a child is an object to be treated at will by the adult and after that every other form of child abuse comes easier to the perpetrator.

Unfortunately the violence becomes ingrained even on the child that also begins to accept that all forms of violence against its person is ok. From there it is downhill and society degenerates into a violent one because people are raised with violence. Even gender based violence starts from the way society raises and socialises its children.

Human rights are premised on non-discrimination which obligates us not to treat other people differently on any basis. If smacking an adult no matter how gentle the smack is not ok why should smacking a child be acceptable? Why should society offer more protection to adults that can defend themselves than children who are defenceless?

The problem with ‘reasonable chastisement’ that the Holy Father was most probably referring to is that ‘reasonableness’ is determined by the smacker and not by the smacked. When has any child stated that a smacking was ok and left its dignity intact? Is the weight of a slap of a grown man or woman on a 1 year old or even 5 year old always in proportion to the level of pain resistance of a child?

The smacking with dignity that the Holy Father referred to does not happen. What really happens to children in their family settings under the hands of their so called loving parents is as stated by Honourable Jean – Baptise Zoungrana, the former Chairperson of the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child who said, ‘Thousands of homes have become real laboratories of violence against children.

This is unacceptable.’ Smacking children has a potential for the risk of getting out of control resulting in serious harm to the child and even death, and we read about these in the media on a daily basis. It is unfortunate that the Catholic Church which is still reeling from the onslaught of accusations and revelations of child sexual abuse and molestations by its clergy can now add violence against children to that record.

The Holy See had a tough time in Geneva when it presented its second periodic State party report on its implementation of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child to the Committee on the Rights of the Child prompting the Committee to state in its concluding observation, ‘The Committee is also concerned that the Holy See does not consider corporal punishment as being prohibited by the Convention and has therefore not enacted guidelines and rules clearly banning corporal punishment of children in Catholic schools or Catholic institutions working with and for children and in the home.’

I am not in any way advocating for indiscipline. Discipline is absolutely cardinal in all facets of life. Positive discipline of children such as explaining and reasoning, establishing rules and consequences, praising good behaviour in children and being good models for children develop a child’s conscience and self-control that lessens the risk of harm. I want to end by reiterating Sergio Pinheiro, the independent human rights expert who conducted the Study on Violence against Children, clarion call, ‘No violence against children is justifiable; all violence against children is preventable. No more excuses!’

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