The cover page of the Sunday Sun of April 23, 2017 reported on Barbados’ report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child. The coverage highlighted Barbados’ position as it relates to corporal punishment. Needless to say, I found this aspect of the report woefully disappointing.
Let me hasten to express my admiration for the work of UNICEF Children’s Champion, Mrs. Faith Marshall-Harris, who has consistently advocated for the rights of our nation’s children, especially as it relates to reinforcing the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) to which Barbados is a signatory. This, however, does not prevent me from expressing the feeling of despondency generated by Barbados’ lack of progress, especially as it relates to corporal punishment.
The comments attributed to some members of the Barbados delegation fresh from the UN Geneva meeting were apologetic, defeatist and lacking in the passion and strong advocacy so necessary for propelling us into the 21st Century, where progressive policies and programmes which make the best interest of children a top priority, should exist. It is far from good enough to state with respect to corporal punishment (especially in public schools) that it is culturally ingrained in society and that we are doing the best we can in the face of great opposition.
This issue needs strong and persistent leadership and the mobilization of a coalition of persons and organizations which are genuinely committed to the best interest of children and not the half-hearted, defeatist comments which were displayed last Sunday. I am confident that there are enough Barbadians who understand the need for meaningful change and who are not willing to continue subjecting their children to flogging in public schools. However, these persons must be mobilized and motivated towards participation in a serious advocacy programme designed to convince the Parliament of Barbados of the urgent need to abolish corporal punishment in our schools.
The present and future of our children cannot afford the pedestrian, multi-generational process of change said to have been adopted by Sweden and cited as suited for Barbados. Our social development system is failing our children by tolerating an ancient and dehumanizing system which has long outlived its usefulness. There are thousands of Barbadian parents and guardians who have raised well-rounded children without resorting to flogging them and there are also some schools where high standards of discipline have been established and maintained without the use of corporal punishment.
I count myself as being among the first to admit that the training of parents, guardians and teachers in the utilization of alternative forms of punishment is an invaluable part of the social development process. However, to suggest that meaningful change must await this large-scale volume of parental training, is no more than a lame excuse for our current state of ambivalence. I strongly recommend that we start the ball rolling by abolishing corporal punishment in the school system as matter of the utmost urgency while simultaneously initiating a national programme of moral suasion with respect to corporal punishment in the home. A well designed national advocacy campaign led by a coalition of committed Barbadians in association with the NGO sector and the Government Information Service (GIS) would be strategically advantageous.
There are significant advantages to be derived from freeing our teachers from the pathetic obligation of having to inflict physical pain on our defenceless children. I maintain that descendants of slaves should feel insulted by the requirement “to beat” vulnerable school children when the former colonial masters who taught our fore parents through bitter blood and tears, have long abandoned such barbaric forms of discipline in their own country. We can never hope to rid our society of domestic violence and violence generally when we self-righteously socialize our children in an environment characterized by the big and powerful inflicting physical pain and suffering on those who for the time being are smaller and weaker.
In the words of Catherine Griffith, my long departed great grandmother, “little pup will become big dog one day.” In other words, today’s children will be tomorrow’s leaders. Through this forum, I am pleading with our political leaders to stand up in defence of our vulnerable children by giving meaningful leadership to this vexing issue now if Barbados can ever hope to become a more nurturing and enabling environment for the well-rounded growth and development of tomorrow’s generation.
(George Griffith is a social development advocate)