“Since humanity has lived on this planet, it has fought and battled. Our fragile peace is always under threat. Isn’t it time to ask ourselves – are we not doing something every day that constantly leads us into conflicts? How can we become better and forget about the constant aggression?” says Astrid Lindgren, commenting on corporal punishment of children.
If we accept that modern society rejects corporal self-revenge, why do we choose to hit the most dependent members of society, hoping that it will lead to the educational consequences we seek?
Sunday, April 30th, is the International Day to End Corporal Punishment of Children. The initiative comes from the global End Violence Partnership platform for advocacy and action in achieving UN Sustainable Development Goal 16.2: Ending all forms of violence against children by 2030. The International Day is an opportunity for organizations, government bodies, and initiatives worldwide to call for an end to violent punishment that is regularly present in the lives of many children around the world, and Bulgaria is no exception.
The National Network for Children will mark the Day to End Corporal Punishment with a campaign entitled “What do we do instead of hitting?”. We declare Saturday, April 29th, as a day of reflection on corporal punishment, and on Sunday, we will publish the most intriguing comments from the public discussion on our website and social media profiles, as well as share resources aimed at professionals, parents, children, and youth for healthier alternatives to spanking.
The conversation is about a unifying theme – we all want to be good parents, but do we know how to react for a lasting positive change in behavior when our children challenge us.
Statistics in Bulgaria and around the world
Physical punishment – or violent discipline by caregivers – is the most common form of violence against children. Around the world, 4 out of 5 children between the ages of 2 and 14 have experienced physical punishment. This happens in homes, classrooms, childcare facilities, and juvenile justice centers. Today, 86% of children worldwide are not protected from this practice by law. These statistics are from the international alliance End Violence Partnership.
In 2000, legislative changes in Bulgaria placed it among the 65 countries that are considered to have a complete ban on physical punishment of children in institutions and in families. This puts us in the same group as countries like Austria, Denmark, Hungary, Romania, Germany, Spain, Japan, New Zealand, and many others. However, outside the official word of the law, things are different.
88% of parents in Bulgaria realize that slapping is an ineffective means of discipline, but despite this, two-thirds of them have used it. These statistics are from a survey conducted by the “Noema” agency on behalf of the National Network for Children and the P.U.L.S. Foundation. The increased concern for children and the greater responsibility of their parents results in a desire for greater control over the child. Slapping is an attempt to regain control when the parent feels helpless and without alternatives.
Communication with children takes up the smallest part of parental time – about 14-15%. Over 40% of parents believe that unwanted behavior in children is an attempt to assert themselves over their parents, while 35% explain it as a need for more attention and communication. In practice, however, this proves difficult. Although the use of physical punishment is decreasing, it remains widely prevalent.
What is physical punishment and what does it do to children?
The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child defines physical punishment as “any punishment in which physical force is used with the aim of causing pain or suffering to some degree, even if slight.” We often use more pleasant-sounding words, such as “slap” or “spank.” But the truth is, for a child, this is an act of violence that, directed at an adult, would be treated as physical assault. Violence is a serious violation of human rights, and it is unjust to strike an adult, as well as a vulnerable child.
However, some of the myths have been debunked.
“Children are resilient. They quickly forget.”
After being slapped, the child experiences fear, humiliation, and insult. It feels regret, disappointment, helplessness, and shame. Studies at the University of Texas in Austin and the University of Michigan among a total of 160,000 children over 50 years found that the development of 13 behavioral problems is associated with “spanking” in childhood, with negative consequences visible in adulthood. Among them are increased aggression, antisocial behavior, mental health problems, negative relationships with parents, lower self-esteem, changes in moral compass, and closing in on oneself.
“Children need a little discipline. It won’t hurt them.”
Children need boundaries. But how they are set is of paramount importance. The truth is that spanking as a discipline method harms the child, who will become an adult. Studies on mental health invariably show the link between violence and poor health. Adults who have been subjected to violence as children become a spark in a tragic chain: they have a hard time leading a full and happy life and often turn to violence as the only familiar way to cope with problems.
“Parents have the right to raise their children as they see fit.”
Yes, provided that we realize the following – children have the same rights as other family members: they should not be hit, just as adults have no right to physical altercation among themselves. Children are not the property of their parents; they themselves are people with their own rights.
Why should we choose not to allow corporal punishment on children?
“In what extraordinary circumstances would someone dare to push, hit, or pull an adult? And yet, it is considered so ordinary and harmless to slap or hit a child, or to grab them by the hand. The feeling of helplessness creates respect for authority. Not only adults, but anyone who is older and stronger can cruelly demonstrate their dissatisfaction, support their words with force, demand obedience and abuse a child without being punished. We create an example that accepts contempt for the weak. This is bad parenting and sets a bad precedent.” says Janusz Korczak – a Polish doctor, writer, and educator who chose to die with the children he cared for in Treblinka in 1942.
Corporal punishment violates children’s human rights and is the most common form of violence against children. Its widespread social acceptance means that there is a level of violence in the upbringing of children.
“Every parent wants the best for their child. Today, the vast majority of parents see that hitting not only hurts children, but also destroys the relationship between parents and children. We at the National Network for Children believe that we need to find all those things we can do instead of hitting together with parents – and to keep our children, our relationships with them and ourselves.”, commented Maria Brestnichka from the National Network for Children.
According to data from the Noema agency survey, about 2/3 (67%) of parents report systemic problems with their children, and 89% say they have ever had a problem. Only 30% of parents have sought information about a child’s problem. Only about 5-6% are able to name a specific organization or institution to help children. Thus, despite official legislation, there is a lack of informed and widely recognized awareness of the case among the general public.
- Do we really understand that a slap is corporal punishment?
- Do we realize the suffering it causes to the child, but also to the parent?
- Is there a difference between a slap in kindergarten and a slap at home, since the child feels equally bad?
- Do we receive enough support to provide us with other mechanisms of reaction and alternative behavior models?
- Can we resolve the situation in a long-lasting manner instead of causing further harm with impulsive swings of helplessness?