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SVG experiencing a cultural shift in relation to corporal punishment?


Despite numerous calls throughout the Caribbean for the repeal of laws that permit the use of corporal punishment, the practice continues in many schools and at home.

Just last week, a Sandy Bay man was jailed for nine months for abusing his stepson with a belt, when he discovered that the seven-year-old could not do his homework. We commend all involved for their vigilance and action in this matter, as the fact that this case even reached the court and there was a conviction suggests that attitudes seem to be changing here in St Vincent and the Grenadines (SVG).

A 2017 UNICEF report of a survey conducted in SVG provides evidence that although we still have a long way to go, support for corporal punishment is declining. Of the people interviewed in the May 2014 survey, only 45 per cent generally support the use of corporal punishment. More support was found among the older respondents (31-50 years), with 52 per cent of them being in favour of corporal punishment. Among the younger respondents (21-30), only 31 per cent were in favour.

According to the UNICEF report, the results indicate a “slight cultural shift” with 83 per cent acknowledging that it is possible to discipline children without the use of corporal punishment, and 46 per cent willing to see a ban of the use of corporal punishment in schools and 27 per cent willing to see it banned in homes.

In Jamaica, this debate may soon reach Parliament, with Prime Minister Andrew Holness saying earlier this month that the time has come for there to be a debate on the issue of putting corporal punishment to an end, both in public institutions and within homes. This is a bold and progressive step on the part of the Jamaican prime minister and we hope the discussion finds its way to the Parliament of SVG.

In the Caribbean, corporal punishment for children is accepted as the thing to do. We brag about how much “licks” we got as a child, and how it helped to keep us on the straight and narrow.

We are a Christian society, and advocates of corporal punishment point to the Bible, which advises against “sparing the rod”. But do we necessarily have to take this admonition literally? We sometimes forget the Bible also advises us to “train up a child”, which indicates setting an example, teaching principles carefully and purposely, and guiding them with care. We are also told not to provoke children to anger.

Have we ever considered that what we are doing in our homes and schools is teaching our children that the most effective way to gain dominance over another person is to inflict physical pain? Could this practice be at the root of much of the violence in our society?

The Jamaican prime minister seems to think there is a connection, because when he addressed the House of Representatives earlier this month, he said by bringing corporal punishment to an end, it would be a forward leading step against violence generally.

In the Caribbean, any suggestion to do away with something as deeply engrained as corporal punishment would be a hard sell. But the results of the UNICEF survey are encouraging and suggest that now, there may not be as much resistance to outlawing the activity as there may have been 10 or 20 years ago. Let us begin the move now to protect our children.