COMMENT: Child disciplining, yes; child abuse/assault, no

The Bible in Proverbs 13 verse 24 (NLT) says: “Those who spare the rod of discipline hate their children.  Those who love their children care enough to discipline them.”

The same book proceeds to say in Chapter 23 verse 13 to 14 (NIV): “Do not withhold discipline from a child; if you punish them with the rod, they will not die.  Punish them with the rod and save them from death.”  Hebrews 12:11 (ESV) also notes: “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

The Holy Book is clear on the importance of parents disciplining children as they grow up and how that helps build their characters.  It, however, makes a distinction between physical abuse which is wrong, hateful and punishable at law; and normal disciplining which is meant to correct lovingly and show the correct path.

Indeed, the rod brought up many in our country into respectable, focused, hard-working and disciplined adults.  Without it, they could have grown into brats who wandered into nothingness.

However, a March 2017 High Court judgment upended life as we knew it for centuries.  While corporal punishment was generally used as a disciplinary measure for ill-behaviour in the country, that ruling declared article 60(2) (c) of the Educational Act unconstitutional.

Suddenly kids started drunkenly dancing on top of desks, whistling and spinning chairs as teachers watched.  At home, misbehaving kids asked their parents if they remember that the cane was declared unlawful. It was impossible being a parent or teacher.  It was, however, clear to both that the country was raising a lost generation, which wielded rights that were to destroy them in future.

In April last year, Senators, Cde Tambudzai Mohadi and Chief Chikwaka decried the increase in cases of juvenile delinquency, partly because of the ban on corporal punishment. Educators were also unhappy with the new provision.  They asked for it to be reinstated.

Two months later Afrobarometer released survey findings saying 66 percent of adult Zimbabweans were opposed to the ban.

High Court Judge, Munamato Mutevedzi last week delivered a ruling which resonates with that majority in relation to corporal punishment.  He acquitted Yeukai Mutero, who was being accused of fatally assaulting her son who had gotten initiated into a Nyau cult.  We regret that the boy died but the judge said Mutero administered the punishment on him using a light switch, using moderate force and not on vulnerable parts of his body.

“There is a danger that drugs and substance abuse may destroy the younger generation,” said President Mnangagwa while addressing a church gathering in Kezi on Sunday.

“I urge the parents not to spare the rod and don’t worry about what the Americans do, they do what they want in America, and here in Zimbabwe, children should be disciplined.”

In fact, his Kezi remarks were a reiteration of what he had said four days earlier while officially opening the national chief’s conference in Bulawayo.

“We’re here today we owe it to our forefathers who preserved our culture, our way of life that has allowed us to survive to date,” he said.

President Mnangagwa

“So, it is critically important for us the current leaders to carry this philosophy and respect traditional knowledge, wisdom and culture to preserve our identity.  We’re fighting drug abuse because drug abuse by our young generation will destroy our culture and identity. Foreign countries will take advantage of us because we’ll have destroyed our identity. This philosophy that children are not reprimanded in the home or counselled at home does not work for us. Look at America, if a child is beaten, they go and report.”

As noted earlier, the rod brought up most of us into responsible, disciplined and focused citizens but the past six years of its ban gave us a view into what was going to be an impossible future.  It is good now that parents, teachers and guardians can discipline their children and or wards by way of the switch, not because they enjoy it, or because they hate the young ones, but actually because they love them and want them to grow into responsible adults.  We hope that homes and schools would be more governable from now into the future.  Also, we hope, as the President does, cases of drug and substance abuse will begin to decline now that adults can enforce teachings much more strongly.

But – and this we must make very, very clear – child abuse or assault is as different from child disciplining as night and day.  Just a few moderate strokes with a light cane on non-vulnerable parts of the child’s body will inculcate the discipline that a responsible parent desires into a child he or she loves.  That is the rod of discipline that Proverbs mentions.

However, a log, plank or hose pipe to the head, ribs, genitals or face is unbridled anger, hatred which injures and does not discipline anyone.  This is an exception which the court has always punished severely and must continue punishing.

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