Apr 25, 2014

    In praise of curbing corporal punishment

    NEARLY a month ago, on March 28, a Malaysian couple was convicted in Sweden of charges related to child abuse.

    The human-interest aspect aside, this case was fascinating to me for a number of reasons.

    Firstly, I believe Scandinavian-style social democracy to be one of the best role models in the world.

    Unlike capitalist free-for-all economies, the combination of welfare and development has also been more pleasing to me.

    Secondly, I believe that child abuse by a parent is the single greatest crime that can be committed on this earth.

    Let me make it clear I am not talking about the case in question, but of those parents who beat, burn, rape and torture their children, sometimes to death.

    Monitoring social media, I was appalled by how many Malaysians assessed the case without understanding the facts or the background.

    Maybe they went by the initial report which indicated that one child was given a light tap once for not praying.

    As the case unfolded, more details emerged and it was not as simple as a single light tap.

    I want Malaysians to ask why Sweden introduced such heavy penalties for what we consider to be an acceptable element of discipline.

    One of the catalysts for the anti-corporal punishment legislation that was introduced in July 1979 was that in 1971 a four-year-old girl was brutally beaten to death by her stepfather and he got away with it.

    The highly publicised case led to soul-searching and eventually new legislation.

    Well, is there success with the measure?

    I have read a variety of studies, some claiming there is little change, while others claim there has been a positive impact.

    One 2007 report states that child abuse cases are now 83 times more common in the United States than in Sweden (based on a per capita reading), thanks to the anti-corporal punishment law.

    What is clear is that more than 30 other countries have moved to follow Sweden's lead in curbing corporal punishment.

    In Malaysia, like it or not, we have horror cases of child abuse.

    Are our laws doing enough to combat this issue?

    Let's be advocates for innocent children first.

    One rationale for opposing corporal punishment for children is that violence should not be a solution to our problems.

    What's wrong with keeping an open mind on this issue?

    I got caned quite a bit in primary school and it developed in me an intense loathing for school and an aversion for authoritarianism.

    I also felt early on that an Indian boy was much more likely to get a caning than someone of a different gender or race.

    Just the way it was. And it was wrong. Still is.

    I am not saying Sweden has it perfect.

    In 1986, Olof Palme was shot and killed after going to the cinema.

    In 2003, Anna Lindh was stabbed to death at a mall.

    They were prime minister and foreign minister of Sweden respectively at the time!

    Obviously there is such a thing as being too lax and trusting.

    After 57 years Malaysia is still finding its feet on the global stage.

    Let us try to be rational and creative in our thinking, not emotional and dogmatic.

    Let us be prepared to learn from others.