Monday 18 July 2011

Nigeria: Corporal Punishment, Step-Childhood and Marital Security

The harrowing story of a boy

Woman Arrested For Battering Son [1] read the news headline and that is just part of what is a long story which has lots of low-hanging fruit starting with the naturally expected revulsion at the pictures of the battered son, the woman, her marriage, the issue of corporal punishment and discipline in the home and many other things.

However, I see some interesting developments that must be highlighted about changes that are occurring in the Nigerian society and the hope that this might become even more widespread.

As the woman brutalised and battered her son for whatever reasons which from the reading of the story indicates were many occasions, a neighbour probably hearing the screams of the child and unable to placate the situation had the presence of mind to contact a non-governmental organisation the Esther Child Foundation.

They immediately attended the scene rescued the boy and had the woman arrested, they facilitated the admission of the child in hospital for treatment, through escalating the issue into the hands of the Ministry of Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation where the child might get all his needs ministered to.

Corporal punishment

The debate about corporal punishment, discipline and the Biblical exhortation about sparing the rod and spoiling the child is quite a sensitive one amongst the religious; certain societies expect and exact the right of such parental control of their children that they will not brook any interference of the state.

A detention, a harsh rebuke, a spank, a smack, a slap, a beating, a whipping, a bludgeoning, a brutalisation and it is not long before we have a murder on our hands but the punisher may not be too aware of the damage being caused in expressing disappointment, displaying displeasure, venting anger or charting the course for corrective deterrence.

You come to the point that from the unvoiced threat to the physical contact occasioning actual bodily harm might well be classed as violence and that is just inexcusable – there should be a set punishment for criminality, there should be limits in time, duration and application with the lessons to be learnt from such activity – all reasons must be reasonable but most of all, the matter of child – parent discipline calls for a radical rethink – the fact that the rights of child to be safe and safe from the brutalisation of others in Nigeria is very welcome and should be commended.

The place of step-children in the family

Next is the matter of step-children and to think I was chatting about this issue not long ago seeing the difficulties presented between a child following a parent into a new relationship, the need for a child to be brought up in their closest family construct and what are the particular concerns for the acceptance of that child in a setting where it can so easily be alienated, isolated, enslaved, brutalised and at worst gotten rid of just because it interferes with an equilibrium that the parent and step-parent are developing, especially when they now have a new child of that that union.

Especially, in Nigeria, I can understand that it is hard for step-children to be accepted fully into the new family structure and treated as own children with the step-parent assuming full guardian responsibility and caring parental provision for the well-being and development of that child.

As the news story indicates, this child was 10, he was not in school and his step-father was ready to leave his mother if she did not do something about the “problem.”

Children and marital security

Her solution before the intervention of the NGO and the authorities was to inflict serious harm on the boy for every minor infraction, to be denied the comfort of a bed that he slept on the staircase, to make his life a living hell and when he did not run away, she probably chose this particular occasion to snuff the life out of him through severe battering and then seek to offer excuses for an accident.

There is such ambivalence in relationships, certain women will stay in marriages that are not working for the sake of their children and then will stoically put everything in the lives of their children when the father leaves the relationship.

There are parts of this setting that sadly predicates on the need for adequate provision for both the woman and the children which for the way our society works expects the man to be the sole-breadwinner and the woman to be the homemaker – in more pragmatic and liberal settings, both the parents work however there are still issues of equality and parity in our quite seriously patriarchal society.

Societal pressures of step-parenthood

There probably is no elixir to help a step-parent assume full and loving parental responsibility of their step-children and one must not forget that part of this heinous situation stems from the fact that the woman had been put under the unforgivable threat of losing her new relationship by her husband if she did not do something about the son from another marriage.

If that situation is proven, one would expect that a portion of the blame and hate must accrue to the account of that nasty husband.

In all, there are no easy solutions with the risk of the woman ending up being a single mother of two children of different fatherhood – that is a different story.

Supporting the rights of the child

What matters the most is that the rights of a child must not be dispensed of just to satisfy some new and comfortable construct, the child was already part of his mother’s life and she should have ensured his future was secure with hers or aborted the prospect of a love strengthen by the murder of her “past.”

One can only wish the child, Victor Emmanuel and better life leading to success in the future and organisations like the Esther Child Foundation need all the support we can give them to protect the rights of vulnerable children in hostile and life-threatening settings.


[1] PM News: Woman Arrested For Battering Son

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