THE BLOG

Sparing the Rod Will Not Spoil the Child

06/26/2015 01:00 pm ET | Updated Jun 26, 2016
DFID - UK Department for International Development/Flickr

The phrase "spare the rod and spoil the child," commonly claimed to have come from the King James version of the Bible, implies that if one does not discipline a child, he or she will never learn obedience or good manners. This proverb is still today often used as a justification to violate children, a rationale for being violent without consequence.

I grew up in the UK, in a close and nurturing family, with a father who supported me kindly, no rod to raise me. But my experience is not shared by many. It was almost 30 years ago when corporal punishment was banned in state schools in the UK. The law, which passed in 1987, took weeks of impassioned debate, warnings of total social breakdown and only passed by a very small margin. So, almost 30 years later, where are we?

Now I live in South Africa, where the use of corporal punishment in schools was prohibited by the South African Schools Act in 1996 -- but today, as well as in many other countries in the world, including my native England, people continue to believe that corporal punishment is acceptable in certain circumstances.

The global fatherhood campaign MenCare has just launched a brilliant, world-first global analysis of fatherhood, the State of the World's Fathers report -- a data-driven snapshot of the state of men's contributions to parenting and caregiving globally, with a section dedicated to men's caregiving and violence against children and women.

It examines how the gendered nature of parenting and experiences of violence as children can lead some men to use violence against women and against children in adulthood. The result is that only a minority of children make it to adulthood without experiencing or witnessing some kind of violence in their homes, schools, or communities -- often at the hands of the very adults who are supposed to care for them. And the statistics are stark: The report reveals that between 500 million and 1.5 billion children experience violence every year, and 60 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 4 around the world -- that's nearly 1 billion children -- are subjected to physical punishment by their caregivers.

The most common form of violence by parents against children is corporal punishment, including physical and humiliating punishment -- and it is widespread: Approximately 75 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 14 experience violent discipline in the home in low- and middle-income countries.

I have been working in the field of gender-based violence for over 20 years and know that fathers have the potential for lifelong and positive impact on their children. Fathers who are caring, engaging, loving and respectful towards their children can equip them with a resilience essential for navigating life's challenges.

However, research shows that one of the highly prevalent negative aspects of fatherhood is the use of violence towards children's mothers. We have very solid evidence that boys and girls who witness abuse of their mothers by their fathers are much more likely to themselves use violence against their partners or experience violence as a victim when they themselves have relationships. Understanding the use of violence against women by men globally is an essential step for work to end violence in general.

Violence experienced by children from parents is also devastating: It can indelibly impact the developing brain of the child and, when very severe, can cause lifelong suffering through mental illness and its disruptive effects on schooling, work and relationships. It also increases the likelihood that they will use violence themselves when older.

We are not trained for fatherhood and so draw on behaviour we have experienced or witnessed. There are important new initiatives globally to get men more involved as supportive fathers so that they can play a positive role in their children's lives. The What Works Global Program to Prevent Violence Against Women and Girls is supporting new developments in interventions and growth in knowledge about the effectiveness of current programs to add to our knowledge of how to prevent VAWG in part through a more positive and engaged fatherhood.

For example, the SHARPZ program in Zambia is supporting fathers who have alcohol problems and have used violence; Help the Afghan Children's peace education program is helping fathers become more peaceful and respectful of their wives and children; and One Man Can in Johannesburg is encouraging South African fathers to be more involved in their children's lives. We can learn from these.

We must condemn any and all forms of violence in our society and in our homes, and raise children who will not resort to violence as a method of conflict resolution, but who will find alternative ways of dealing with disagreements and misunderstandings and become positive role models for our children.

The State of the World's Fathers report is out now: www.sowf.men-care.org.