Will sparing the rod spoil Batswana children?

05 Aug 2018

Most Batswana young adults usually trade stories about severe beating (or beatings) they received as child ren at the hands of parents or other family members, in the name of “discipline.

The stories are often wrapped in the nostalgia of the, “good ol’ days.” When you got caught doing wrong a neighbor had the duty (or right) to beat (correct) you, then you would get it again when your parents (or parent) got home. Botswana’s traditional form of discipline is however at cross roads. The rod which has become a by word for discipline in Botswana child raising culture is now floundering on the rocks of child rights.

The country’s established traditional discipline is now facing a strong push back from advocacy groups that are championing the rights of children.

Onkatlile Nthutang of Childline says Childline is completely against corporal punishment that ends up as child abuse. “When you discipline a child you do it with hopes that they learn from it. They either stop what they were being disciplined for or they associate that thing with being beaten hence refrain from it. We at Childline Botswana guide parents and teachers on how to instill discipline without necessarily assaulting the child. It is important to get the message across to the child that they have done wrong than it is to inflict pain on them. We are aware of the importance of instilling discipline in children but it could be done in many other ways without physically harming the child.”

She says they have had cases where children, neighbors and even parents come to alert them that a child is being abused. “We deal with relevant stakeholders such as the police to curb this; they then take it to the courts if they deem it fit. We also offer counseling to children who have been in such predicament to help them heal.”

This emerging paradigm is clashing with the traditional mindset parents who spare the rod spoil their children. The prevailing cultural view is that beating is essential to keep children safe, out of jail, or from falling prey to the dangers of the streets out there.

In many Setswana home, parents have historically been regarded as having the right, if not the duty, to physically punish misbehaving children in order to teach appropriate conduct, this typically takes the form of spanking or slapping the child with an open hand. Parents tend to use corporal punishment on children out of a desire for obedience, both in the short and long term, and especially to reduce children's aggressive behaviors. This despite a significant body of evidence that physically punishing children tends to have the opposite effect, namely, a decrease in long-term compliance and an increase in aggression.

Sethunya Mosime, senior sociology lecturer at University Of Botswana says although corporal punishment in the home was widely accepted, there is less and less punishment nowadays. “We grew up being disciplined by the cane, it was sort of the norm, if a child was out of place they would be disciplined but we can’t say every family uses corporal punishment. Most parents don’t usually sit and talk to kids to show that they are not happy about something, it is uncommon. Parents only talk to children when they are happy or when they are scolding their kids.  Some children are so inherently “bad” and their behavior is sometimes uncontrollable that a little corporal punishment wouldn’t be bad but it should never cross over to being so serious as child abuse.” She says corporal punishment in the home is becoming less as parents are now choosing other options for disciplining their children such as talking to them and warning them no to do something or making them take a time-out as a way not to instill fear in them as when they would use a stick.

Maikutlo Olebeng says corporal punishment in the home isn’t necessarily bad. “Some parents take discipline to mean obedience. Their goal isn't for children to learn how to make good decisions. It's for their kids to memorize and do all the behaviors parents believe are right. The assumption is that if kids are trained to behave right they'll grow up with the right set of behaviors. They will (supposedly) be disciplined to behave.  Children can learn to obey around adults then behave however they please when their parents aren't watching. The worst behaved children have either parents who are hands off or parents who punish their kids into obedience.”