Prime Minister Andrew Holness has been fervent in his belief that corporal punishment should be banned and he is desirous of having the matter debated in the House of Parliament with a view to enacting legislation that would outlaw it from our way of life.
Over these many years, Jamaicans have agonized over the use of corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure in our homes and at school. Similarly, in the wake of the high number of murders in the country, many have argued that capital punishment should be re-introduced in the penal system.
Human rights activists and forward-thinking citizens have objected to these two proposals on the basis that they would prove to be ineffective for whatever the perceived or desired outcome. In the case of capital punishment which traditionally in Jamaica has been by hanging, the British Privy Council has put a spoke in the wheels of our justice system by way of the famous Pratt/Morgan decision.
Corporal punishment as practiced in Jamaica has been with us from time immemorial. Older folks in retrospect still believe in the biblical saying: “Spare the rod, and spoil the child.” They maintain that the decent, law-abiding citizens that they have become today was as a result of the spanking that they got in their early youth. Frankly, the jury is out on these two pressing matters in a society where violence has become the norm. A videotape which circulated recently on social media showing a half-naked mother slapping her teenage daughter repeatedly with a machete sent shock-waves throughout the nation and triggered much public discourse on the legitimacy of such an action.
In the meantime, there have been numerous cases of what has been described as child abuse meted out by parents, guardians, older siblings and teachers against children in a bid to discipline them. In this context, there have been several studies which indicate that children who have been subject to violence will exhibit that same behavioural pattern in later life. In other words, violence begets violence.
Rather than harsh legislative measures to deal with this issue, we suggest that a more intensive public education programme be pursued, seeking to use moral suasion rather than resorting to the whip. No pun intended. We believe that the stick and carrot approach should be employed and just penalizing well-intentioned parents. Of course, it must be understood that corporal punishment must not be equated with physical assault or abuse. There is, after all, what is known as tough love.