Spare the rod and spoil the child, goes the popular saying. It implies that a child cannot be brought up as a good citizen if he or she is not punished for doing a wrong thing. Spanking of children by parents, family members and teachers is common in societies all over the world.
Most of us have vivid memories of getting spanked at home and at school. Fights among brothers and sisters inevitably resulted in more work for the cane.
Some students considered getting caned an 'achievement', though admittedly of a dubious kind. Bad eggs in the class were perennially at the receiving end of the cane, even when they were not the culprits. The merest sight of the cane was enough to frighten the more squeamish students.
In retrospect, caning is no laughing matter. It is a rather humiliating and painful experience. In children's eyes, only capital punishment is worse than corporal punishment. The physical scars of caning fade, but the mental ones last a lifetime. After all these years, one can still recall the tinge of pain and the sense of shame.
Spanking is now widely recognised as a child rights issue. Child rights campaigners have designated April 30 as the 'World No Spanking (SpankOut) Day' to highlight the need for doing away with corporal punishment.
A leading child rights organisation explains: "Children, like the rest of us, have a right not be hit. Smacking hurts children - and not just physically. The aim of a no-hitting day is to get parents to stop and to think about it; to recognise that there are many positive and non-violent ways to encourage the behaviour they want from their children; and to realise they never need to hit a child again."
Several countries have enacted laws that prohibit violence against children in any form. Sweden was the first to introduce such legislation. Sri Lanka too has strengthened child rights laws, under which a person found guilty of inflicting physical harm on a child can be sentenced for up to 10 years in prison.
The Education Ministry Circular 2001/11 expressly forbids physical punishment of children. The National Child Protection Authority and a number of other organisations will be starting a heightened campaign against corporal punishment from today.
This does not mean that parents and teachers should look away while the children do as they please. As guardians, they must be vigilant about the activities of children and guide them on the correct path through a gentle approach. Discipline is essential in childhood, but choosing violent methods to enforce and instill it is counter-productive. Childhood is an age of innocence. Adults should help keep it that way.
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