TO SPANK OR NOT TO SPANK

Bid to ban physical punishment for youngsters in Philippines fails

Three in five Filipinos experience physical and non-physical punishment during childhood, with more than half of the cases happening at home, according to the United Nations children's agency Unicef.
Three in five Filipinos experience physical and non-physical punishment during childhood, with more than half of the cases happening at home, according to the United Nations children's agency Unicef.PHOTO: ST FILE

A long-running debate over physical punishment for minors again took centre stage after President Rodrigo Duterte vetoed a proposed law last week that would have banned spanking and other forms of corporal punishment for misbehaving youngsters.

The Bill seeks to outlaw "physical, humiliating or degrading acts" as a form of punishment.

It does not impose jail terms, but it empowers community leaders to compel offenders to attend counselling and seminars on positive discipline, anger management and children's rights.

Mr Duterte said in a statement explaining his veto that the proposal was "overly sweeping".

"Regrettably, this Bill places responsible disciplining of children in the same category as humiliating and degrading forms of punishment, and condemns them all in one broad stroke," he said.

He said he favours a "more balanced and nuanced approach" that will both protect the child and recognise the rights of parents to discipline their children in however way they see fit. He cited his own experience growing up.


ST ILLUSTRATION: MIEL

Mr Duterte, who has confessed to being a handful when he was a child and teenager, said his late mother, when upset at what he had done, "would hit me with whatever she could grab".

DISCIPLINE

What the President is saying is, punish them but in a restrained manner. You know why? The President and I, our generation, were given discipline by our parents. Just one look, and we will follow. That's why we became good citizens, not afraid but respectful of laws and ethics.

PRESIDENTIAL SPOKESMAN SALVADOR PANELO

One time, she made him kneel in front of an altar with his arms "spread like Jesus Christ" for an hour. "She was a bit of a child abuser. If that happened now, she would have faced cases," he had joked.

Yet, he said this rough upbringing reined in many of his self-destructive impulses and shaped his beliefs about discipline and order.

Presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo told reporters that spanking, as long as it is measured, had led to "good citizens". He added: "What the President is saying is, punish them but in a restrained manner. You know why? The President and I, our generation, were given discipline by our parents. Just one look, and we will follow. That's why we became good citizens, not afraid but respectful of laws and ethics."

Mr Panelo said his mother had made him kneel on coarse salt for being stubborn.

Child rights advocates, however, have been presenting growing evidence that corporal punishment at home could have harmful effects.

Three in five Filipinos experience physical and non-physical punishment during childhood, with more than half of the cases happening at home, according to the United Nations children's agency Unicef.

Many of these children display anxiety, lack of concentration, thoughts of rejection and low self-esteem, according to a 2006 study.

"We want to emphasise that violent discipline does not produce law-abiding citizens, but causes juvenile delinquency, aggression, inter-generational transfer of abuse, and even drug or alcohol abuse," said Child Rights Network spokesman Richard Dy.

The American Academy of Paediatrics said in a new policy statement it published last December that corporal punishment is associated with increased aggression and makes it more likely that children will be defiant in the future. In the Philippines, where spanking is still seen as a rite of passage, especially among the poor, opinions are split down the middle.

"I support corporal punishment. I would have been an even bigger brat if my family did not punish me. (Children) have to learn the hard way that breaking rules has serious consequence," discussion site Reddit user Crystal_Lily said online.

Another participant, twagg999, said: "We grew up with spanking. We got everything: belts, slippers, brooms. But we turned out okay. We didn't lose our respect for our parents. But it has to be explained to kids why they are being punished."

But for user crispyfatass, spanking had led to "anxiety, and being withdrawn and easily discouraged".

"I don't get it why spanking can be justified. Any form of violence is never right," he said.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 05, 2019, with the headline 'Bid to ban physical punishment in Philippines fails '. Print Edition | Subscribe