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Dear Editor: Is Children’s Authority advocating child beating and encouraging victim blaming?

“In one ad, the Authority states: ‘Ensure children are appropriately dressed, to avoid exposing them to unwarranted attention from predators’. This message places the blame for sexual assault on the child’s appearance.

“Surely this cannot apply to the babies, toddlers, children and teens assaulted in their homes, by trusted adults! If there is anyone who should know the dynamics of sexual assault against children, it is the Children’s Authority.

“[…] By what stretch of the imagination can one reasonably believe that how a child dresses is linked to an assault by an adult?”

In the following statement, the Working Women for Social Progress (WWSP) criticises the Children’s Authority for its presumed stance on sexual assault and violence, based on the body’s advertisements:

Photo: A school teacher administers corporal punishment in Uganda.

The establishment of the Children’s Authority was one of the most significant developments for the protection of our children. The number of reports of physical, emotional, and sexual abuse of children, received every day by this agency and other authorities, is sobering. It proves how widespread is the culture which assumes the liberty of adults to manipulate the minds and bodies of children.

Clearly much work needs to be done to change our attitudes and understanding of a child’s right to a life free of violence. We therefore register our disappointment with certain ads, put out by the Authority, carrying messages harmful to the safety of children.

In one ad, the Authority states: “Ensure children are appropriately dressed, to avoid exposing them to unwarranted attention from predators.”

This message places the blame for sexual assault on the child’s appearance. Surely this cannot apply to the babies, toddlers, children and teens assaulted in their homes, by trusted adults!

If there is anyone who should know the dynamics of sexual assault against children, it is the Children’s Authority. They must know that these are hidden attacks; that children are groomed and threatened not to reveal their attacker; that these attacks are pre-meditated and planned; and that they damage children for life.

By what stretch of the imagination can one reasonably believe that how a child dresses is linked to an assault by an adult?

Photo: A molested girl.
(Copyright Jamaica Empire)

In another ad, the Authority advises the public that: “Only a guardian or a parent can administer corporal punishment. However, it must be reasonable.”

Should we now throw away the laws against domestic violence and advise the public that in the home it’s okay for men to beat women—or vice versa—as long as the beating is ‘reasonable’?

The Authority clarifies: “By ‘reasonable’ we mean the punishment must not be excessive when compared to the reason for the discipline. And, secondly, the punishment should not venture into what can be deemed as physical abuse.”

In the first place, adjectives like ‘reasonable’ and ‘excessive’ will mean different things to different people. These terms are subjective. If we accept this advisory from the Children’s Authority, we would have to come up with a manual for ‘reasonable’, that is ‘good’ child-beating, something like the Code Noir (Black Code) issued under slavery in the French colonies, laying down rules about how many lashes, or which atrocities, like cutting off a person’s ears, slave-owners could ‘reasonably’ inflict upon the enslaved as punishment for which behaviours.

Secondly, the Children’s Authority should know better than to equate the word ‘discipline’ with the word ‘punishment’. There is a lot more to the task of bringing up children to be self-disciplined citizens than just punishing them.

Photo: Children enjoy themselves playing open air games. Church camps promise a lot of this but a lot also goes on behind closed doors.

While culturally corporal punishment might be accepted, surely the Authority should have, within its ranks, psychologists, child guidance officers, and child development specialists who are aware of the mounting evidence on the ill-effects of corporal punishment. (For information, please see references below.) There should be no one employed in the Children’s Authority who has no clue about, or does not accept, what we know today, in the 21st century, about child development.

The greater the cultural acceptance of corporal punishment, the more likely it is that children will be physically and emotionally damaged. Corporal punishment is associated with depression, especially among teens, and permanent physical damage, or even death, among children. It often begins as ‘reasonable’ and progresses to increasingly violent forms, particularly from caregivers who themselves were subject to severe corporal punishment as children.

Corporal punishment does the following:

  • Models the use of violence to address the behaviour of others, teaching children that violence is an acceptable approach to resolving conflict.
  • Silences children, preventing them from developing the communication skills and acknowledging the emotions that they need to resolve conflicts, setting them up for using bullying and other forms of violence.
  • Reinforces the idea that physical power can be used against someone smaller and weaker. Isn’t this the basis of bullying?
  • Builds distrust between parent and child, for children afraid of being hurt will not reveal the things they worry about to parents. Indeed, victims of sexual abuse are often threatened that if they reveal the situation to their parents or caregivers they will be beaten.
Photo: Are children protected from abuse in Trinidad and Tobago?

Even if the use of corporal punishment is still legal, of all institutions, the Children’s Authority should be the one leading the charge to end this practice in every institution of the society, in particular in the family—lobbying for the abolition of corporal punishment, and working actively to present parents and caregivers with non-violent alternatives to teaching their children discipline.

There are already parenting groups in the society which teach these non-violent alternatives, and parents attest to the success of the methods. These well-established approaches have the effect of protecting children from potential and real physical and emotional harm; building children’s self esteem; and providing them with the skills needed to negotiate, peacefully, the difficult social situations and relationships that they will inevitably face.

We are disappointed that such retrograde ideas could be disseminated by the official protector of our children. We call on the Children’s Authority to withdraw these harmful messages and to fulfil their mandate to be informed advocates who work conscientiously and intelligently for and on behalf of our nation’s children.

We also call upon the Division of Gender and Child Affairs to make an intervention in this serious matter which is nothing less than a crisis. The Children’s Authority needs to have a uniformed child protection philosophy, and training for staff in keeping with this philosophy.

Editor’s Note: Click HERE and HERE for more information on the ill-effects of corporal punishment.

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3 comments

  1. “We therefore register our disappointment with certain ads, put out by the Authority, carrying messages harmful to the safety of children.
    In one ad, the Authority states: “Ensure children are appropriately dressed, to avoid exposing them to unwarranted attention from predators.”
    This message places the blame for sexual assault on the child’s appearance.”
    This is a very astute observation but it also assumes that the statement was either an oversight or an unconscious expression of a negative cultural view by the Children’s Authority. I wouldn’t mind hearing from the Authority on the reasons for the wording. Is there any research based evidence to back up the advice? Pedophilia has its own definitions and range of reasons for the behavior of a pedophile, including being abused as a child themselves and being ‘frozen’ in a state of mental and psychosexual immaturity. Rape, on the other hand is broadly defined as an act of violence; an act intended to demean, punish or humiliate the victim. It is well known that research shows that the way that you dress does not invite rape neither is the victim to be blamed on account of how they dress. Even if minors carry no blame whatsoever (and they absolutely do not) for acts of sexual violence perpetrated on them, does the reason have anything to do with the way that the perpetrator thinks? I am just curious and how is this type of advice affected if the primary motivation of the perpetrator does not reside in pedophilic desire but falls into the category of rape, for example? All of these speculations are predicated on the assumption that there is a rational basis for the advice given by the Authority.
    That aside, on the matter of what is best and appropriate dress for children, it helps to also be aware that we dress our children according to what is practical, functional and instinctively based on our own patterns of cultural identity. But how many of us recognize the importance of allowing children the input to allow their clothing choices to help them in setting their own boundaries and forging their own identities? Just as they must be aware that their bodies are their own, they need to understand the cross implications of their need and right to privacy, expression of emotions and limits that they place upon society on intrusion upon their bodies, they must also understand how clothing affects these dynamics. Or more so I should say, how they choose to. That will most definitely interplay on their ability to stand up to abusers, speak up for themselves and to recognize unacceptable transgression of their personal boundaries.

  2. Is Chikdren’s Authority another eatahfoid scam organization, similar to ODPM who only “coordinate”?
    Or similar to NAT LOTTERIES BOARD who actually award bonuses and shady contracts to friends and families?

  3. Time for a review of the ‘Children’s Authority’?