The two-day National Conference on Violence against Children, which begun in Monday and opened by the First Lady, is attempting to tackle a phenomenon that is close to my heart; violence aimed at children. One of the topics that they will tackle is the root of this type of violence. While I’m sure that there are really smart people coming up with really complicated theories and such, let me throw my two cents in.
How often have you seen a toddler being beaten by their parent just because they made a mess? Or simply because they were crying a bit too loudly? If you haven’t seen it happen, well I have. And the weird thing is, parents actually love the child to bits and would die for them. So, it isnt child abuse per se in the classical vein but rather misplaced discipline. And parents aren’t the only one willing to beat sense into young children. When I first came back to Africa, having lived in North America for the majority of my young life, it was extremely traumatizing to find out that teachers beat academically weak and playful children. I was traumatized even further when I became one of the beaten students. It was rather amusing, in hindsight of course, just how quickly I got used to these beatings and considered them part and parcel of school life.
An old school mate, who I haven’t seen since 1994, is paying me a visit this week. Over a cold drink, we reminisced about the hungover math teacher who gleefully thrashed you if you failed to answer a question; about the Christian religious education teacher whose cane strokes resembled a golf swing; about the deputy headmaster who asked you to bend over and touch your toes at a ninety degree angle and the horror of horrors, the termly ‘Arena’. At the end of every term, the entire school gathered at the main hall and class after class was called on stage and read their test results. And God help the pupils that hadn’t scored extremely high grades; the school administrators, who sat in a semicircle, would take turns beating the errant students. I was one of those poor unfortunates, and I remember an ‘Arena’ where I was lashed 25 times. Last year, when I travelled to Uganda, I visited the old school. Standing on the main hall stage in the corner I used to cower in, a cold chill went through me.
The funny thing is that this school was, and is, known as one of the best primary schools in Uganda and its pass rate in the national Primary Leaving Examination is amazing. Last year, each and every one of the students passed in first grade. But to find, in this most elite of private schools with amazingly motivated teachers, a culture of violence against children is a manifestation of the complexity of the issue. There is a belief in the minds of many people I’ve met that unless children are beaten, they will become unruly, disobedient and ultimately, failures in life.
I cannot reiterate this point enough; traumatized children are scarred for life. They become adults afraid of speaking their minds because they were beaten for talking out of turn, impatient of differing opinion because they weren’t allowed to have their own opinions and worst of all, pass on the disease of violence to the young generation by, in turn, thrashing their children.
This cycle of violence must be halted and I think that it is a national concern. What I mean by that last statement is this; Rwanda’s economic development is dependent on a citizenry that can think outside the box and formulate solutions to seemingly intractable problems. We need mavericks, not plodders. When we beat children and traumatize them, we are producing rule followers. Not a good idea.