Spare the Rod and Spoil the Child? Discipline and Violence in the Caribbean

By Laurence Telson*
Spare the rod and spoil the child!  Who in the Caribbean has not heard this cryptic biblical proverb that in itself brought swift punishment to one’s bottom for a crime once forgotten?
The Caribbean is home to some of the wealthiest per capita countries in the LAC region.  In terms of human development,  two Caribbean countries – The Bahamas and Barbados- are amongst those identified as “very high human development” in the region and 6 other countries topped the “medium” level.  The anglophone Caribbean countries are amongst the least corrupt of the world; 6 of the top 20 countries are from the region.  This is in great part due to good old fashion social development for all and strong rule of law.
Beyond these macro facts and the idyllic view of the Caribbean as a place of fun and surf, it is also a place where violence is part of the social fabric, starting in the home.  Corporal punishment (spanking, flogging and other physical affronts) is a long standing and legal method of keeping children in line, at least at home, in the 12  Caribbean countries where  there is data. There is no age limit to this discipline or safe space to escape the whip: children as young as two years of age are as vulnerable as those in their teens in homes and,  spanking in alternative care settings are allowed in all but 3 countries – Jamaica, Haiti, and  Trinidad and Tobago . Only the islands of Aruba, Curaçao and St. Maarten (which are part of the Netherlands) have completely outlawed all forms of physical punishments of children, including in the home.
Despite the perceived belief that physical punishment is an acceptable and transferable parental choice for discipline, it has been shown repeatedly that violence begets violence. There is strong evidence that children who are often victims of physical and sexual violence are at a greater risk of replicating this behavior as adults. Violence also impacts cognitive development. Child victims of violence and corporal punishment are more likely to have lower scores on national exams.
Let us be clear that this type of violence against children is not confined to the Caribbean. As a percentage, physical punishment is equally acceptable throughout all of the region– 35% in the Caribbean and 37% in Latin America.   And, contrary to popular belief, spanking is legal in Canadian  homes, under certain conditions; in the USA it is constitutional and allowed in most homes, and in schools in 19 states as well.
Most Caribbean nations have achieved great strides in economic and social development, yet violence remains an historical scourge that plagues these islands even today. Let’s abolish all forms of corporal punishment in the home and in institutions. Until this is done, we should not expect violence in our countries to end.
Laurence Telson is a US Citizen and a native Haitian. She currently works at the Inter-American Development Bank’s Gender and Diversity Division.

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