Why Ireland must ban smacking children


Texan judge William Adams enters his daughter’s bedroom. On the wall next to the computer in the corner is a poster of Bart Simpson writing lines on a blackboard. In front of Judge Adams is his daughter’s bed, covered in a red and black spread.

His daughter Hillary is wearing thin grey pants and what looks like a pyjama top.
“Bend over the bed”, he says, quietly in his southern drawl, “Bend over the bed”. She’s whimpering now. “No. Dad”, she pleads.
“BEND OVER THE BED”.

He’s swinging a belt.

He thrashes her on her thighs before shouting once more “BEND OVER THE BED”.

She folds herself over the bed. She’s cowering, weeping, screaming. He keeps thrashing her. Crack, crack, crack. She’s flailing so he presses down on her back, to force her onto her stomach. He strikes her again and again and again.

He moves away. She sits up. Her shoulders continue to jerk forward; still flinching from the attack. She starts wailing. Her father stands before her and regards her for a second. Then he lashes out again. With each crack of the blow, there’s a gasp as she tries to find air. Her mother, from the corner of the room watches on and tells her daughter to “take it … like a grown woman”.

Hillary’s crime was to download music illegally from the internet.

The abuse continues for six minutes. The footage emerged in November when Hillary, who had secretly set up a webcam in her room to record her father’s ongoing abuse decided to release in on the internet.

Though he’s being investigated, there’s a good chance that William Adams won’t be held to account for his actions because of the time that has elapsed since his crime; the footage was taken in November 2004 when Hillary was 16. Judge Adams and Hillary’s mother have since split up, the latter claiming that she was”completely brainwashed and controlled” in her marriage. Hillary and her mother now have a good relationship and have appeared on chat shows together.

I found it impossible to watch the full seven- minute clip posted below but I forced myself to watch enough to decide that what Judge Adams did was a disgusting crime deserving of a prison sentence. Alarmingly, there are many who, having watched the same clip, disagree that Adams is even guilty of abuse.

While Judge Adams was abusing rather than ‘spanking’ his child, the case illustrates why it is socially important and morally necessary to protect children under law.

The Minister for Children, Frances Fitzgerald is considering bringing in a blanket ban on smacking children.

She should do so as soon as possible.

Most of the generation before me was beaten. Many were sexually abused.

In Ireland today, parents still smack their children in the middle of the street.

The purpose of a law is to create a boundary of social propriety. Broadly speaking, when a democratic society prohibits something, it sends a signal out about what is right and wrong.

Smacking children is wrong. It is not necessarily abusive, or worthy of criminal pursuit but it is still wrong.

Many who were smacked grow up to say “well, it never did me any harm”. Many of them use this as an excuse to smack their own children, claiming that “spare the rod, spoil the child”.

There is no evidence to suggest that smacking a child is beneficial. As children develop, they learn to model their behaviour on that of the people around them. Researchers have found that children who are smacked are more likely to grow up to be violent themselves.

Smacking a child is a poor parental strategy. It is a lazy, uncreative way to stop undesirable behaviour and leads to long-term damage to both parent and child.

I have heard the weak argument expressed that children under three have failed to reach the “age of reason” and can therefore only respond to discipline in the form of corporal punishment.

While it is tself highly contestable that children under the age of three cannot “reason”, this argument falls through because it is certain that children from the moment they enter the world, copy the behaviour of the people around them. Unless violence is desirable, children’s exposure to it should be prohibited.

Supposing a toddler lacks the capacity to understand that throwing food from their high chair is wrong. If he or she is smacked, they still don’t make the connection. Instead they learn that when their parents are upset, or angry, they respond by lashing out.

“But what if a child is running into the middle of the road and a car is coming and you lash out to stop them?” I hear people cry.

This is okay, you will not be prosecuted.

This is an uncomfortable topic for plenty of people. Many ‘good’ parents smack their children and admittedly the long-term damage might be minimal. Nevertheless, the message is ineffective and the means in itself infantile and unsophisticated.

Parenting is not easy. The temptation to smack will arise. In the majority of cases, at least a handful of smacks will be administered.

Where the law comes in is in changing perceptions. The fact that many people in America and beyond can watch a video as horrendous as that of Judge Adams’ assault of his daughter and claim that it doesn’t constitute abuse is utterly alarming.

It shows that laws – like parents – must set clear boundaries. Physical punishment is wrong. Apart from the unusual case where a child is innately violent (not having learnt the behaviour) and when a parent must use force in self -defence, it is unambiguously unacceptable.

In eighteen of the forty-seven member states of the Council of Europe, it is illegal to inflict physical punishment on children in all settings, including the home.

According to the Irish Times, enforcing the same ban here is problematic because of the constitutional guarantees afforded the family.

It is ironic that in an attempt to protect a child from an abusive family, the rights of that same family could be infringed. It is the same kind of logic that protected the institution of the church over the abuses it perpetrated against its flock.

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5 thoughts on “Why Ireland must ban smacking children

  1. Oh my this is just horrible! That poor little girl, what that judge did to his child is absolutely unacceptable. As someone who experienced horrific sexual and physical abuse during my childhood, I find under no circumstance is it ever an appropriate time to strike a child.

    I wonder how that judge would have felt if he had someone three times his size beat him with a leather strap for 6 minutes.

    • It’s just indescribably awful, isn’t it? I’m so sorry to hear that you experienced abuse as a child. I agree totally that it’s never okay to strike a child, or anyone else for that matter. Most disgusting of all is that he said he had done nothing wrong, and that it ‘looked worse than it was’. The man should be locked up.

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