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June 04, 2019 Tuesday 01:17:28 PM IST

CHILD AND PUNISHMENT: A PSYCHOLOGICAL ANALYSIS

Personal

Child abuse in the form of infanticide, mutilation, abandonment and other forms of violence has been reported from ancient civilizations itself. There had been reports of children cast out by families to provide for themselves and being victims of sexual abuse. People who were interested in children’s well-being had come forward and charitable trusts did exist with the aim of protection of children. However, the medical profession approached this issue seriously after the reports on battered baby syndrome. But decades later, today it scares us as a lethal problem, deeply rooted in cultural, economic and social practices.

Culture has got a great role in the generally accepted principles of child-rearing and care of children. Different cultures have different rules about the acceptable parenting practices. The notions on what practices are abusive or neglectful also vary among cultures.However, all of them strictly discourages child abuse.

Child abuse or maltreatment constitutes all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power. It should not be misinterpreted as a requirement for implementation of discipline as there is nothing that helps a child to grow or develop or behave; it’s just a form of venting out the aggressor’s anger.

Forms of child abuse


1.Emotional abuse:in the form of belittling, shaming, and humiliating; making negative comparisons to others; frequent threatening or bullying; ignoring or rejecting a child; limited physical contacts with a child - no hugs, kisses, or other signs of affection; exposing a child to aggression against another - the other parent, a sibling, or even a pet.

2.Child neglect:failing to provide for a child’s basic needs including adequate food, clothing, hygiene, or supervision. The parent might be having some serious illnesses or injuries, or untreated mental illnesses including substance abuse which seriously impair judgment and the ability to keep a child safe.

3.Physical abuse: injuring the child physically may be a deliberate attempt or due to excessof physical punishment which isconsidered by many parents as forms of discipline. But physical abuse often becomes unpredictable andturns out to be a lashing out in anger. It uses the fear factor to control the behaviour,but the children are really learning how to avoid being hit, and not how to behave.

4.Corporal punishment and other disciplinary acts : most commonly used against primary school students by the school authorities (hitting with a cane or ruler,slapping, hitting on the back, boxing ears,applying electric shocks, forcing the childrento stand up or assume stressful positions for lengthyperiods, threats of physical violence, enforced starvation, tying up children to a chair or pole and beating them up).


5.Sexual abuse: it may be by body contact or by exposing a child to sexual situations or materials. These kids are often tormented by guilt,leading to sexual and relationship problems as they grow older.

6.Trafficking:it deprives children of the right to ensure their identity, education, health care, rest and leisure. The children are made to believe that they have no alternatives; they often lack motivation to escape and are usually used for sexual exploitation or forced labour.

7.Online child sexual exploitation:it refers to the use of the internet as a means to exploit children sexually, the different categories of which include child sexual abuse materials (CSAM or child pornography); online facilitation of offline child sexual exploitation (use of the internet for child trafficking, or for child marriage or for theexploitation of children in prostitution); corrupting the psyche of children (adults or otherchildren exposing children to pornography online); sexual extortion of children (onechild voluntarily sharing a nude or sexualizedphoto with another child or an adult, and thenbeing blackmailed as a result).

8.Conflict-related violence: itincludes targeted attacks on education facilities, students or staff, or on education in general.


Risk factors

1.Domestic violence:  However much protective the abused parent is towards the child, domestic violence is extremely damaging.

2.Alcohol and drug abuse:The impulsiveness and impaired judgment following substance use canimpair child-rearing practices and maylead to abuse of children.

3.Untreated mental illness:Untreated mental illnesses in parents impair their ability to take care of themselves and their children. Treatment to the caregiver will help improve theircapabilities of caregivingto the children.


4.Lack of parenting skills:Teen parents or parents who were themselves victims of child abuse may have unrealistic expectations about how much care babies and small children need.

5.Stress and lack of support:Caring of children without support from family and friends, especially when they have some disability, special needs or difficult behaviour is very stressful, which may reflect on the person’s ability to support the child.

6.Being a disabled child:  Powerlessness, social isolation and stigma faced by children with disabilities make them highly vulnerable to violence and exploitation in a range of settings, including home and schools.

7.Discrimination against girls and sexual minorities:the persons constitute a vulnerable group, especially exposed to sexual abuse.


Impact of the problem

1.The child may go through an extended period of stress and develop serious mental and physical health issues.2.Risky sexual behaviour.3.Criminality.4.Alcohol or drug abuse.5.Neglectful and abusive parenting.6.Unintended pregnancies, induced abortions, gynaecological problems, and sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.

7.Contribute to a wide range of non-communicable diseases as children grow older. The risk for cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and other health conditions may increase due to the negative coping up and health-risking behaviours associated with violence.8.Impacts opportunities and future generations. Children exposed to violence and other adversities are more likely to drop out of school, have difficulty in finding and keeping a job, and are at a heightened risk of later victimization and/or perpetration of interpersonal and self-directed violence, the impact of which might affect the next generation.9.Death or severe injuries.

Overcoming the problem


1.Identifying and managing the risk factors, especially those related to parental mental illnesses including substance use and personality problems. 2.Revealing hidden nature of the abusive practices and initiating the process of breaking down social acceptance of its various forms.3.Working with communities and families to recognize violence and to support other practices, such as positive discipline.4.Policies and laws are reviewed to ensure that the reprehensible activities arecategorised under the definition of violence and also to include response and prosecutorial mechanisms.5.Helplines and hotlines provide support and advice for parents and children in coping with abuse and harmful experiences.6.Awareness-raising efforts intended for children and parents and addressing online safety.7.Proper rehabilitation of the sufferers.

8.WHO has recommended seven strategies for ending violence against children, abbreviated as INSPIRE:

 

Implementation and enforcement of laws (for example, banning violent discipline and restricting access to alcohol and firearms);


Norms and values change (for example, altering norms that condone the sexual abuse on girls or aggressive behaviour among boys);

Safe environments (such as identifying neighbourhood ‘hot spots’ for violence and then addressing the local causes through problem-oriented policing and other interventions);

Parental and caregiver support (for example, providing parent training to young, first time parents);

Income and economic strengthening (such as microfinance and gender equity training);


Response services provision (for example, ensuring that children who are exposed to violence can access effective emergency care and receive appropriate psycho-social support); and

Education and life skills (such as ensuring that children attend school, and providing life and social skills training).

Corporal punishment in schools

This is an emotive and controversial topic for many people. The arguments for and against mainly revolve around the ethics and practicalities of using it as a way of maintaining student discipline. People who are for corporal punishment generally take the view that if it can be properly regulated; it can be an effective way of maintaining discipline in an educational setting, while those who are against it generally view it as an ineffective method of maintaining discipline and/or unethical.


The idea behind the practice is that pain is deliberately inflicted on a student, usually by a teacher, as a punishment for an offence that has been committed. Apart from serving as a punishment, it is intended to act as a deterrent against breaking of rules in future. Typically, the punishment is performed by striking the pupil repeatedly, such as hitting the palm of their hand with a cane. Corporal punishment in schools is prohibited in over 30 countries globally, including Canada, Kenya, South Africa, New Zealand and most of Europe. The United States tends to be spilt along North-South lines as far as allowing it is concerned, with Northern states generally prohibiting the practice and Southern states generally allowing it. In India, we have reached no consensus so far.

Arguments for corporal punishment in schools

1.      Because it works. That is why it has been featured as a traditional tool of teachers for so long. There is no other equivalent mechanism that acts as both a punishment and deterrent in the same way. The psychological and physical immediacy of a short sharp shock is simply the most effective way to affect behaviour in some circumstances.

2.    As long as it is properly regulated, there should be no problems with it being used in schools. Some of the negative stories used by people opposed to corporal punishment are the result of failures in regulation and leadership, not corporal punishment itself.


3.    It can be administered quickly. The pupil can then continue with his or her learning, unlike other forms of punishment, such as suspension from school when they miss school time and their education is hindered.

4.    It is also an effective use of working time of staff, unlike other forms of punishment such as detentions, whereseveral hours of working time of staff might be wasted in supervising students who have misbehaved.

Arguments against corporal punishment in schools

1.          It is a form of abuse against children - psychologically, as well as physically. It also sends out the message that violence is socially acceptable, which is entirely the wrong message to be given out.


2.        There is no evidence that schools thatimplement it are any more disciplined or orderly than the ones that don’t. The effects of it seem to be more negative than positive and serve to undermine the teacher-pupil relationship.

3.        Corporal punishment is not used in an even-handed way. For instance,boys tend to be given punishment more than girls.

Conclusion

One of the vexing questions before parents, teachers and public in general is whether punishment in schools, colleges and educational institutions is justified or necessary. In the Indian setting, we need to consider our cultural background which is deeply rooted in respect for elders, parents and teachers. So, whatever punishment that is awarded, should not impede this trust-basedrelationship. If punishment is unavoidable, the following rules should be applied) it should be immediate and not be delayed or given when the parent or teacher is angry or irritated over any other issue; ii) Punishment should be proportional. When given, it should be proportional to the mistake or wrong-doing. While it is best to forgo punishment for trivial mistakes, severe punishment if any, should be reserved only for serious infringements; iii) Punishment should be understood: the one who is punished should understand his/her  mistake and should know why he/ she is punished; iv) Punishment should not be harsh: whatever be the mistake, harsh punishments should always be forbidden. 


Finally, we should appreciate, punishment is not the only tool before us- often rewards, encouragement and appreciation for good behaviour and our disapproval for bad or unhealthy behaviour can be much more powerful than punishment!


Prof Roy Abraham Kallivayalil & Dr Soumya P Thomas

*Prof. Roy Abraham Kallivayalil MD,DPM
Secretary General, World Psychiatric Association   
Professor & Head, Dept of Psychiatry

Pushpagiri Institute of Medical Sciences,  

Tiruvalla, Kerala- 689 101, India

                   &

**Dr Soumya P Thomas MD

Senior Resident

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