Abuse vs discipline, Child Protection Council speaks following viral video

It has been one week since the video of a young girl, being violently beaten by her guardian, went viral on social media and police said they have yet to determine if they will build a case of child abuse against the youngster’s guardians.

The home is traditionally considered the training ground for many and discipline is normally a part of the child rearing process, but with so many videos surfacing, and going viral on social media, which show Bahamian children being disciplined, many question the thin line between discipline and abuse.

“When we talk about child abuse, there are six types of abuse that we use to categorize these acts. We begin with sexual abuse, then there is physical abuse, physical neglect, educational neglect and then we have emotional and psychological abuse,” said Dr. Novia Carter-Higgs, a member of Child Protection Council (CPC).

“When you look at those terms, and when we talk about tipping the scale, we need to look at that. Anything that can impact the overall mental health of a child can be looked at as child abuse.”

But when police are called upon to determine whether a child is actually being abused, Superintendent Tess Newbold, a detective in the Central Detective Unit (CDU), explained that officers are guided by section 62 of the Child Protection Act.

“Any person that has ill-treated a child to the point where they have ‘suffered,’ or have some bodily injury affects the health of a child; that would be considered along the lines of child abuse,’” shared Supt. Newbold.

“Now the word ‘suffer’ or ‘suffered’ is judgmental, but once we put the facts together, we then send our findings to the courts and the magistrate then makes a decision from there.”

Corporal style punishment is a norm in many Bahamian homes and many Bahamians see nothing wrong with aggressive styles of discipline, however. Dr. Carter-Higgs is advocating against it.

“We need to help parents and the community understand that we need to move children away from corporal style discipline and begin to teach self-discipline which means that even if a parent is not around, they understand and know how to conduct themselves in certain situations,” she said.

When a video of a young school girl being aggressively beaten by her guardians surfaced on Facebook May 9, many persons agreed with the type of punishment administered.

The one-minute and 30-second video shows the teenage girl being repeatedly hit about the body.

The amateur cell phone video, which was shared nearly 1,000 times on Facebook, shows the young girl being hit with a wooden stick, a leather belt and clinched fists.

The young lady curled her body into a corner and repeatedly screamed “sorry” however, the beating continued.

Audio excerpts from the video imply the reason for the young girl being aggressively disciplined was due to her coming home after 10:00 p.m.

Despite repeated cries from the teen, the woman continued hitting the student in her face and on her head.

Dr. Carter-Higgs said Bahamians must realize that children have rights as well.

“We are signed on to an International Child Protection Treaty, which out rightly states the rights of a child. We have to be mindful that we are governed by these international laws as well,” she asserted.

“Based on the fact that we are signed on this international treaty, it is the government’s responsibility to ensure that children’s development is not impacted by violence. And in many cases, the physical abuse that many children have endured, constitutes violence.

Aggressive punishment administered within the home, which borderlines violence, eventually spills into the society, suggested Dr. Carter-Higgs.

“We are finding that these children then switch, whereas if they are victims in the home, when they come into the school community, they then become the aggressor or a bully to others,” she said.

Supt. Newbold revealed that many Bahamians are unaware that they can seek the help of the courts when struggling to handle rebellious children.

She shared that the law also has provisions for parents, with unruly children, to seek help.

“You can report any matter, when a child needs discipline to social services, and we will have the child taken before a magistrate and that will allow for a care order or protection order to be placed, and we can assist with getting some assistance toward dealing with that child,” Supt. Newbold said.

Police investigations into the May 9 incident are ongoing, authorities confirmed.