Corporal punishment harms Yemeni children’s development [Archives:2008/1163/Reportage]

May 12 2008

By: Khalid Al-Hilaly
For The Yemen Times

“I never hit my children,” one Sana'a father said as his 8-year-old daughter looked up at him with surprise. “You can ask her,” the little girl's father said, “Do I beat you?” His daughter stared at him in silence.

Corporal punishment remains an acceptable way to discipline children in Yemen, where there are no regulations prohibiting its use in the home – by any family member against another.

“Nearly 90 percent of children report that physical and humiliating punishment is the main method of disciplining them within their families,” according to a 2005 report by Save the Children entitled, “Physical and Humiliating Punishment of Children in Yemen.”

Save the Children is a worldwide nongovernmental organization that helps prevent child abuse. “Punishments usually were inflicted by mothers and fathers, but also by elder brothers,” the report continued.

Eighty percent of mothers in rural areas and 59 percent of mothers in urban areas use corporal punishment to discipline their children, according to another report from 2004 on mental health, education and punishment pertaining to school-aged Yemeni children conducted by the Institute of Psychiatry at King's College in London.

Its report indicated that mothers with a low level of education were more likely to use corporal punishment.

“The most common forms of punishment were hitting with the hand, a belt, a stick or some other implement. Other measures included locking [children in a room], tying [children up], biting and pinching,” the report noted, adding, “Boys were significantly more likely than girls to be spanked.”

The experience of severe corporal punishment is linked to poor educational achievement and unstable mental health for children of both sexes, the report concluded.

“I was beaten as a child, but I wouldn't treat my kids that way,” maintains Ali Abu Talib, a 33-year-old father of two, “because hitting makes children carry a strong dislike for their parents.”

However, Taha Al-Mohammed, a 54-year-old father of nine, admits, “I've used hitting – light hitting – in raising my children, but I've never hit my daughters or let their brothers do it [either]. Discussing [the issue] with them was an effective enough form of punishment.”

“The more beating a child receives, the more violent he becomes,” says Khalid Al-Samaee, a father of two, “A child who is beaten at home takes revenge on other children on the streets.”

He continued, “Families that don't use family planning often have six or more children, so because they fail to provide a proper education or discipline their children, they use corporal punishment as a final effective technique.”

A 2006 United Nations study on violence against children called for ending the justification of violence against children – whether it is accepted as tradition or disguised as discipline – and asked all countries to prohibit all forms of violence, including corporal punishment, against infants and youngsters.

Dr. Hassan Kassim, president of the Yemen Psychological Association and a founder of the local nongovernmental organization Child Rights Care, notes that corporal punishment has been scientifically proven an ineffective means of achieving positive child development.

“Even if corporal punishment produces a behavioral change in a child, that change has proven to be only temporary,” Kassim explains, adding that the optimal outcomes of disciplining a child, such as internalization of morals or social problem solving, can't be gained through corporal punishment.

“The use of corporal punishment has consistently been related to poor mental health in children and youth, including depression, anxiety and feelings of hopelessness,” Kassim notes, adding that, “Corporal punishment is a risk factor in [a child's] increased levels of aggression and antisocial behavior.”

Corporal punishment remains a controversial subject between parents and the psychology and children's rights communities. Some parents believe that corporal punishment is sometimes necessary, while others find different techniques to enforce rules, such as praising a child's good behavior, among other methods.

“I would raise my children the right way and teach them right from wrong, but if a child still misbehaved, I would beat him – but not violently,” says Um Mohammed Al-Hubaishi.

According to 34-year-old father of three Adnan Al-Ujail, using violence against children isn't Islamic, so parents should benefit from new educational methods of raising their children. “With just one look from me, I can stop my child from misbehaving,” he adds.

Abu Talib has another method, explaining, “My children are very attached to me, so becoming angry and not talking to my child is an effective form of punishment. I only use spanking to discourage dangerous behavior like badmouthing or insults.”

Additionally, Al-Samaee suggests, “Keeping a child from his [or her] favorite activities, such as kids' television programming, is a successful method of punishment, instead of using physical force. Also, reducing a child's allowance is another effective form of punishment.”

Awadh Al-Himyar, a father of one, disagrees with a legislative ban on corporal punishment for children. Instead, he says, “I prefer an awareness workshop for parents who use corporal punishment about the effects of violence on children.”

Kassim was one of several internationally chosen experts contributing to a recent publication by the United Nations' Educational, Social and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) on the seven major principles of child discipline, which are outlined below:

– Respect a child's dignity.

– Develop a child's pro-social behavior, self-discipline and character.

– Maximize a child's active participation.

– Respect a child's developmental needs and quality of life.

– Respect a child's motivation and life views.

– Assure fairness and transformative justice.

– Promote solidarity.

According to Kassim, there are several constructive and safe methods of disciplining children, including, “Restriction of privileges such as reducing playtime, not allowing watching favorite television programs and seeking advice from available good models, such as the Qur'an and the Sunnah, in addition to cognitive thinking – contemplation and collective participation.”

Finally, as Al-Samaee's 9-year-old daughter Moniah advises, “A child who disobeys his [or her] parents shouldn't be allowed to join others at the park or on visits – but they shouldn't be beaten.”