Spare the rod and spoil the child, this is the operational mantra of most Batswana parents who still subscribe to time tested traditional discipline.
Domestic corporal punishment or parental corporal punishment is part and parcel of Botswana’s traditional child rearing practices and punishment. It typically involves the corporal punishment of a child by a parent or guardian in the home – normally the spanking or slapping of a child with the parent’s open hand but occasionally with another object such as a belt, slipper or cane.
“The time tested” Setswana way of keeping children on the straight and narrow is however being buffeted by strong winds of change from the global human rights movement.
The push for a paradigm shift in the way Batswana parents bring up their children is backed by United Nations Children’s rights Convention and a growing body of research evidence suggesting that corporal punishment has long term effect of the development of children.
Clinical psychologist, Dr Sophie Moagi says, “Corporal punishment is emotionally as well as physically painful and its links to poor mental health in childhood are clear. Corporal punishment is significantly associated with a decrease in children’s mental health, including with behavior disorders, anxiety disorders, depression and hopelessness. Other studies have found associations with higher stress-levels and heightened reactions to potentially frightening events, as well as links to a variety of mental health problems including depression, low self-esteem, hostility and emotional instability. Research suggests that corporal punishment can have a negative impact on children’s cognitive development due to the effect of early experiences of fear and stress on the developing brain. In addition to the impact that corporal punishment can have on children’s health and development, it has also been associated with a number of negative behavioral effects including increased aggression in children: being aggressive towards their peers, approving of the use of violence in peer relationships, bullying and experiencing violence from their peers, using violent methods to resolve conflict and being aggressive towards their parents. Although corporal punishment is associated with immediate compliance, it does not contribute to the child’s long-term compliance to the desired behavior but in fact makes it less likely that they learn the lessons adults want them to learn. This can result in poor moral regulation and increased delinquent and antisocial behavior.”
The use of corporal punishment has been consistently found to be related to poor mental health in children and youth – including depression, unhappiness, anxiety, and feelings of hopelessness. Corporal punishment is a risk factor for increased levels of aggression and antisocial behavior in children; relationship problems, including impairment of parent–child relationships as well as perpetration of violence as an adult, including abuse of one’s family members. Many parents who seem to be moving away from the somewhat primitive way of thinking now see corporal/domestic punishment as a threat to the healthy development and welfare of children and the societies of which they are members. Constructive, non-violent child discipline is needed.
Despite the commonly held belief that corporal punishment used by loving parents is a good, or at least harmless, disciplining technique, some studies have found that a majority of child abuse cases arise in situations where the abuser intended to discipline the child, and abusive parents admit that their abuse began as an attempt to discipline their child. Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University Of Botswana says “ Corporal punishment and partner violence in particular are closely linked – the two kinds of violence often coexist and experiencing corporal punishment as a child increases the chance of both being a victim of and perpetrating intimate partner violence as an adult. Parents in households where intimate partner violence happens are twice as likely to inflict corporal punishment on their children. Corporal punishment has also been found to severely damage the parent-child relationship, teaching children to fear and avoid their parents: children report feeling hurt, angry and frightened of their parents after being physically punished.
Many more children sustain injuries and physical impairments as a direct cause of corporal punishment and the majority of cases commonly referred to as “abuse” are cases of corporal punishment. Most cases of physical abuse involved forms of violence typically used as punishments. It should also be noted that all physical punishment, however “mild” and “light”, carries an inbuilt risk of escalation: its effectiveness in controlling children’s behavior decreases over time, encouraging the punisher to increase the intensity of the punishment.”