Spare the rod?

The supposed shock and horror of the nation at the public beating of a teenager by her mother to my mind throws up the latent hypocrisy of Barbadian society.

Such a scene has been enacted time and again in the vast majority of communities in this island, usually evoking laughter and titillating gossip.

It struck a particular chord given the backdrop of a series of town hall meetings seeking to inform the draft Green Paper on the proposed Children & Young Persons Bill aimed at comprehensively reforming the law as it relates to children and families.

Incidentally, the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was signed by Barbados on April 19, 1990 and ratified on October 9, 1990. Article 19 of the Convention provides that:

“1. States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.

2. Such protective measures should, as appropriate, include effective procedures for the establishment of social programmes to provide necessary support for the child and for those who have the care of the child, as well as for other forms of prevention and for identification, reporting, referral, investigation, treatment and follow-up of instances of child maltreatment described heretofore, and, as appropriate, for judicial involvement.”

Given the fact that no one seemed to know what to do or what the correct procedures and protocols were in the example cited I am unsure how far we have come in the last two decades since our ratification of this convention.

The magistrate, sitting in the juvenile jurisdiction, may perhaps see fit to exercise the discretion allowed by section 16(k) of the Juvenile Offenders Act by prescribing some course of counselling for both parent and child involved in this matter for the benefit and betterment of all parties, since conviction for whatever charges does not in my opinion address the root cause of the problem.

In any event, Barbados has not outlawed the infliction of corporal punishment by parents on children and in fact Article 5 of the Convention provides that “States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognised in the present Convention.”

Local custom supports the principle of “spare the rod and spoil the child” and a paradigm shift in our national thinking will be required to eradicate this form of punishment altogether.

That being said, beating over and above that strictly necessary for disciplining a child, which is a matter of degree, falls within the criminal law of assault. Assault is a common law offence and is committed where one person puts another in fear of bodily injury. Technically, the actual infliction of injury is classified as battery.

If convicted before a judge and jury the penalty for assault is 10 years and/or a fine of an unspecified amount pursuant to section 44 of the Offences Against the Person Act, or if convicted by a magistrate, imprisonment for two years and/or a fine $2,500.00.

I have seen no report that the mother in the video has been charged with an offence but of some note is the fact that the minor has been brought up on charges as a juvenile. One concludes that either there is more in the mortar than the pestle or the servants and/or agents of the State have taken the easy route and I sincerely hope that it is the former.

I wish you a happy and blessed Easter weekend filled with food, family, kite-flying and as many chocolate eggs as you can eat.

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