After my article of last week, a few fellow Christians pointed me to Proverbs 13:24 and Proverbs 22:15 as justification/mandate for using “the rod” on children. I am not a Bible scholar but I am a lover of words and logic, so let’s parse the passages first before we go any further. The first says: “He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” Chasten is to rebuke, right? So in effect, the verse calls for the rebuking of a child when such rebuke is called for. The second verse says: “Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child; but the rod of correction shall drive it far from him.” In biblical times, shepherds used the rod to guide their sheep. The rod of correction is therefore a guide, not a child-thumping stick. Again, what the parent is advised to do (by Solomon) is to correct not flog, abi? My earliest introduction to ‘rod’ in the Bible ( and which made me, as a kid, imagine it as the light that always stayed on while I slept ) comes from Psalm 23 which we had to memorize in kindergarten. In it, the Psalmist writes that the Lord is his shepherd who guides him along the right path, and so even though he walks through the valley of the shadow of death, he fears no evil because the Lord’s rod (and staff) comfort him. The rod and the staff comfort (him) and do not inflict pain on him. Here, there is no ambiguity at all about the role of the rod. Are we all agreed on that? Can I get an amen?
Also, last week I concentrated on parents who employ corporal punishment as a means of punishing their children for whatever wrong they do, but as a brother-friend pointed out to me, some children do everything right and still get beaten. For not doing well at school. For not running an errand quickly enough. For not being the children the abusers want them to be. For being. And no, there is nothing normal about it. I know it is the season to be jolly and all of that, and the last thing people want to do in the midst of all that jollof and fried meat and nkwobi and the inevitable waterfall of drinks is to have a conversation that makes them even slightly uncomfortable but let us. Let’s talk about child abuse because it is not something we talk nearly enough about.
Again, this week, my focus is on physical and verbal abuse perpetrated by parents against their children and not against their domestic help. The latter wickedness deserves its own space, the former is shrouded in silence. I suspect the silence is because many people do not believe that what any parent does to their child -verbally or physically- should be classified as abuse. I can already hear many ask, Abuse? Haba, no be you born de pikin? Furthermore, abuse is such a strong word, carrying the weight and stench of evil that it seems an incongruity to use it in discussing any parent-child relationship, it doesn’t even register on some of our radar. Last week when I questioned the whole “sparing the rod and spoiling the child,” style of discipline, I do not believe I used the word ‘abuse’ once. I was not being intentionally reticent, it was not just on my radar. It should have been.
A few days ago, I read a very sobering piece by a young Nigerian journalist whose mother’s gratuitous physical abuse was constant and has left him with scars that are still visible today (as well as invisible ones). More recently, I saw a video of a woman whose son’s abuse at school left him so traumatized that he could hardly speak. His mother, a woman campaigning for justice for her son, a woman whose anger at the perpetrators of the abuse was justified, a woman who understood why her usually gregarious son was withdrawn, told him off in a fit of anger. His offense? Making ‘noise’ because a nurse wanted to insert a needle into his skin, but when senior boys were molesting him he was quiet. It was a throwaway comment made in the heat of the moment but it was still a terrible, unbearable thing to hear flung at a child who was already suffering. Someone wise once said that speaking is like pouring ink on a white shirt. No matter how much you regret the ink and try to wash it off, the stain remains.
In a society where parents are “always right” and mental health is not something that we recognize outside of people eating out of trash cans, parents who obviously need mental health intervention do not even know to get it, and children in abusive homes have no idea who/where to go to for help. Some of these children grow up to continue the cycle of abuse with their own children, passing on a legacy of pain and trauma that manifests in different ways.
The only way to break the cycle is by confronting the menace: abuse. We must recognize it for what it is , acknowledge its existence and name it. We must work towards creating an awareness of what abuse is and what its effects on victims are. We must create a space for victims to report abuse and we must work towards a system that legally punishes abusers. Na you born de pikin no mean say make you kill am. Period.