It skipped our notice again: senators passing a bill they hardly understood, let alone grasped its full implications.
Senate Bill No. 1477, known as an Act of Promoting Positive and Nonviolent Discipline of Children, seeks to prohibit corporal punishment on children below 18 years old.
Sen. Risa Hontiveros, chairwoman of the Senate committee of women, children, family relations and gender equality, sponsored the said bill.
Based on the Manila Bulletin report dated Oct. 8, 2018, the measure prohibits all forms of physical and mental violence like “beating, kicking, slapping, lashing on any part of a child’s body, with or without the use of an instrument such as a broom, cane, whip or belt.”
It likewise bars parents from using “disciplinary measures” like “pulling of a child’s hair, shaking, twisting of joints, cutting or piercing the skin, dragging or throwing a child and to perform physically painful or damaging acts such as squatting, standing or sitting in a contorted position, holding weight or weights for an extended period, kneeling on stones, salt or pebbles as well as verbal abuse or assaults, including intimidation or threat of bodily harm, swearing or cursing, ridiculing or denigrating a child or making him look foolish in front of his peers or the public.”
This is where it gets really tricky: when people cannot tell the difference between actual physical abuse and the disciplining of the child.
Walking to the newsroom of the Manila Standard decades ago, I heard the crying of a child. I was a newbie proofreader then. About 10 feet away, I saw a woman dragging a girl, somewhere between five to six years old, with the force that could break the child’s left arm.
When the two reached the other side of the road, the child threw a tantrum the likes of which could convince anyone within hearing distance that her throat was being slit. In the woman’s attempt to silence the child, she grabbed her hair and slammed her head—though not enough to kill her—on a brick wall.
My initial reaction was to run to the child’s rescue. I immediately grabbed the kid from the woman, placed her round my back, and told the woman to desist from hurting the child. “She’s mine and you have no right to take her,” she screamed back at me, her eyes bloodshot and fiery.
I screamed back at her face, forcing her to take a couple of steps back. I thereafter sat next to the child so I could check her head for wounds. While there was no visible injury, she looked much too shaken and in pain to be normal.
Good thing I saw three barangay officials making the rounds. I handed the child over to the officials and told them what I had just witnessed. They told me they knew the woman by name and confirmed that she was the child’s mother. They lived along the row of shanties just beyond the wall fronting the row of newspaper offices located at the Port Area.
The mother and child were accosted roughly 20 feet away and were thereafter set free. The mother, still visibly infuriated, yanked the child to herself and hushed her weeping with a slap on the back of the head. In full view of what had just happened, the barangay officials did nothing.
There’s a world of difference between abuse and discipline. Clearly, what I have just here related falls under abuse. Verbal and physical abuse of a child comes about when parents fail to “put the child in his or her proper place,” thereby resorting to more violent means to frighten the child into following instructions.
Situations, however, vary greatly. I once had to violently yank my daughter Rei (she was three years old back then) from crossing a busy street a mere second after I looked at the stoplight. Good thing I had her hand in mine.
With my finger to her nose and a voice which boomed like thunder, I told her to never do that again. “I will teach you how to cross the street at the right age,” I said to her firmly. “For now, you will not cross the street without me beside you.”
I taught my daughter well enough for her to grow up street-smart. Proof of this is the way she survived her college years in the rough and tumble world of the University Belt without getting mugged or hit by a car.
I likewise taught her to wield a knife and stick it in anyone’s neck as swiftly as you could say, “It’s a hold-up!” Teaching her to improve her sense of incoming danger proved vital in keeping her safe in the streets.
A child’s natural tendency while growing up is to assert his or her way. That’s a given. Their ignorance of the immediate dangers, however, puts them in harm’s way. The trick is to begin the disciplining process while they are small, not when they’re too old.
By then they should be enjoying a certain level of freedom, not a slew of restrictions. In the world of child discipline, too old is too late.
“Putting a leash on your child,” so to speak, doesn’t always require violent means on the part of the parent. What it does require is patience and the needed time to explain to children the consequences of their actions.
Having the patience to tell the child what to do as opposed to what not to do spells the difference. This is where real learning comes in. But the parent must spare the time to explain, to clarify and expound. Time spent in conversation with children is the key.
Which is why, I believe, that instead of crafting laws that cannot tell between child discipline and child abuse, our lawmakers must craft laws which will allow parents to spend more time with their family. A five-day or four-day work week might help.
While I believe that Senate Bill No. 1477 can somehow help stave off any possible abuse of children in the future, it would be best to nip the problem in the bud by insisting that discipline best serves its purpose when done with patience and time spent with children.
What children learn at a very young age within the confines of familial love helps in preparing them for a productive life outside the walls of the home. Punishing and restricting them further only after kids reach some level of maturity is the quickest way to raise a generation of criminals.
To know and understand the consequences of their actions form the crux of real discipline. G