KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 28 — Spare the rod and spoil the child, so goes an old-fashioned saying.
But now that the issue of using the cane to discipline children has led to polemics, it is worthwhile reviewing the matter comprehensively, particularly in terms of whether such punishment leaves behind deep-rooted psychological scars in young minds.
While caning is a norm in eastern societies and used as a tool by parents to shape children into becoming obedient and submissive to them, the truth is it can have both positive and negative effects on children.
To what extent can caning be seen as an effective mode of punishment to be meted out to children in any family institution?
Bernama sought the opinion of Universiti Malaya Specialist Centre Consultant Psychiatrist Dr Muhamad Muhsin Ahmad Zahari, who believed the caning culture could have long-term psychological repercussions on a child.
Children who have been punished with the cane may, out of fear, steer clear of misbehaving, but, as pointed out by the psychiatrist, the damage has already been done.
He said children who were often beaten by their parents were likely to experience fear and even trauma when they come face-to-face with their father or mother because they tend to perceive caning as a form of punishment, and not as a “lesson” for them to learn from.
“Caning is not the best approach to take in the upbringing of a child. Parents should raise their children by reprimanding them when they misbehave and giving them proper advice and motivation.
“Caning not only results in physical pain but will leave behind emotional scars as well, especially in the case of children who are beaten frequently. The ill effects will linger even when they become adults and have families of their own,” he said.
Women, Family and Community Development Minister Datuk Seri Rohani Abdul Karim was reported as saying last Saturday that the caning of children may become a criminal offence under a new law, which would replace the Child Act 2001.
She had said that the provision outlawing caning had been included in the new law as Malaysia was a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC).
Following the report, several parties sought further clarification from the ministry and urged the government to review its decision to include the provision to outlaw caning.
However, in a statement issued last Sunday, the ministry explained that not every instance of caning would be treated as a criminal offence under the new law. It said only acts, including caning, leading to physical and emotional abuse would be construed as criminal offences.
The ministry added that the new law was also in line with earlier proposals to repeal Section 91(1)(g) of the Child Act 2001, which allows the court to impose whipping on child offenders.
The proposal to abolish court-imposed whipping also fulfilled CRC principles.
According to Muhamad Muhsin, parents played an important role in portraying themselves as exemplary role models to their children to enable them to absorb only positive values and refrain from getting involved in negative activities. National Defence University of Malaysia Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Student Affairs and Alumni), Asso Prof Dr Mohamed Fadzil Che Din, called for more thorough and detailed research to be carried before the new act was drafted. He said in drawing up the new law, several aspects have to be taken into consideration, including the Malaysian Education Development Plan, because the nation’s socio-cultural and religious practices differed from those of western countries.
“Caning is allowed in Islam to educate and discipline children, but psychologically, caning can lead to emotional and physical distress if it is abused by parents,” he said.
Mohamed Fadzil, who is also an expert in psychology and counselling, said although caning served as a disciplinary tool, guidelines should be formulated to ensure fairness for all the parties concerned.
“The ministry concerned should clarify why caning is being categorised as a criminal act, because caning is part of the process of moulding a person’s character.
“Caning should be retained but there should be limits for it,” said the former President of the Malaysian Board of Counsellors.
Teacher Noor Zariah Yusof, 31, meanwhile, felt that caning should be allowed for the purpose of disciplining and educating children.
She believed that parents would only resort to caning their children if they had very good reasons for doing so, and not on the spur of the moment.
“Parents only want the best for their children and wish to see them growing up to become useful adults.
“Now in schools, teachers are barred from using the cane. I’m confident that parents know what they are doing when they take disciplinary action against their children,” she added. — Bernama