Violence towards kids is not 'family business'

I saw a parent disciplining his one-year-old son recently by slapping him across the face, in view of myself and many other customers.

The child's transgression: Repeatedly asking for his mother, who was at the other end of the store.

The strike was loud enough to capture my attention, and strong enough to leave the skin on the boy's face inflamed and red, with visible signs of a developing bruise and several broken capillaries.

It was a distressing sight to see.

I approached the father and told him what I thought about his behaviour.

But he angrily defended the abuse of his son as "family business".

It did not take long for me to realise that perhaps I was alone in this situation.

No other person in the supermarket seemed concerned about the welfare of the child.

Child abuse is often understood to be family business.

This is the unfortunate view of not only the perpetrators of violence towards children, but also of the many who bear witness and do nothing.

Yet, child abuse is not family business. It is the business of any concerned citizen who witnesses a crime against a person unable to protect himself.

It is the business of anyone fearful of the far-reaching individual and social effects of subjecting children to abuse.

And crucially, the "mind your own business" response to distressing incidents is a real problem for us all and one that pervades all aspects of our social fabric.

It is symptomatic of an uncaring society where citizens are not willing to act if it calls for them to make difficult choices or take personal risks.

It is symptomatic of a society that does not see the welfare of others as a collective responsibility.

The creation of a more compassionate society has emerged as a key agenda of the Singapore Government in recent years.

The Ministry of Social and Family Development can work towards this and change public perception of child abuse and violence within the family.

This can be done with prominent displays of consciousness-raising posters at bus stops and MRT stations, to get people to move out of their comfort zone and speak out against child abuse when they see it.

Joel Gwynne (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline 'Violence towards kids is not 'family business''. Print Edition | Subscribe