Some months ago, the viral video of a man beating his 18-year daughter over an offense provoked debate on the practice of corporal punishment in Nigeria where, according to a survey, over half the children experience violent discipline before 18.
Corporal punishment has a long history of prevalence in Nigeria. A 2011 UNICEF survey showed that children aged 2 to 14 were subjected to physical punishment at home. And every year, reports of horrible beatings gone awry dominate the news.
Supporters of the practice claim it is necessary for training children. According to them, beating children for offenses deters future misbehavior and curbs delinquency. However, research proves corporal punishment is ineffectual at creating behavioral change. It guarantees immediate compliance, but fails to teach anything. Hence, the child hardly internalizes the very values parents want to instill.
If corporal punishment is ineffective, why is it rife in Nigeria’s homes? The first factor to blame is religion. The two dominant religions in the country — Islam and Christianity — both support corporal punishment. Islamic law advocates its use for correcting criminals and erring wards alike. And the Bible advises parents not to “spare the rod” — an implicit approval of the practice.
Culture also plays a role in the widespread use of corporal punishment. Cultural norms in many Nigerian societies endorse the use of violent discipline for disciplinary purposes. Thus, the practice receives widespread acceptance, especially among parents. For example, a study revealed that 62% of Nigerian mothers and caregivers thought physical punishment was necessary in child rearing.
Additionally, parents are ignorant of the effects of violent discipline on children. Many of them frown on corporal punishment only when it leads to extensive injuries or death. But research shows that the effects of corporal punishment are far more subtle and insidious. For instance, a study on 6,000 adults found that adults subjected to physical punishment experienced more depression compared to others.
The Child Rights Act of 2003 signed into law by former President Olusegun Obasanjo affirms the right of children to freedom from abuse and derogatory treatment. Corporal punishment is nothing but a form a child abuse and must be eradicated from the Nigerian society.
Eliminating corporal punishment in Nigeria will require widespread legal reform. Presently, sections of the Penal Code (used in the North), Criminal Code (used in the South), and Sharia law allow the use of force in correcting minors. Scrapping these laws will strip away the legal protection individuals who mete out corporal punishment currently enjoy.
The government should follow this up with the enactment of regulations prohibiting the practice of corporal punishment. These provisions must clearly define corporal punishment and state the consequences for engaging in the act. Already, about 60 countries worldwide have banned corporal punishment in both schools and homes. Nigeria must join these countries and outlaw corporal punishment of all forms.
Government must also create awareness programs aimed at parents to make them understand the dangers of physical punishment of wards. These programs should teach alternative positive-parenting tactics they can use to establish discipline in wards, in place of corporal punishment.
It is the 21st century, not the Middle Ages; violent discipline has no place in today’s world. If anything, it is an outdated practice, a relic of a bygone era. “Our religion demands it” or “our culture supports it” is hardly excuse for beating children. We must move along with the rest of the world and stop subjecting children to corporal punishment and its attendant negative effects.