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By Martin Lamarque

Ruling on spanking sets a dangerous precedent

Uploaded: Oct 10, 2013

The ruling by 3 judges of the 6th Court of appeals regarding physical punishment by parents takes our society back, or a the very least, stalls progress in the very important endeavor of recognizing children's right to be free of physical abuse.
I sympathize with the mother of the 12-year old girl who resorted to spankings with a wooden spoon when she couldn't control her daughter's behavior. I understand her despair when she felt beating her daughter was the only option available to her. But given everything we know about the long term effects of physical maltreatment?let alone its ineffectiveness?what we needed was a legal precedent to send a clear message that physical beatings of any human being will not be tolerated in so-called civilized societies.
Two days after these 3 judges ignored decades of sound scientific research on the wide and costly ramifications of physical punishment, another judge, in Pennsylvania, convicted a man who had also used a wooden spoon to beat his wife for being disrespectful.
Whatever happend to "all equal under the law"?

Is not often that the public gets to learn about the childhood experiences of those who commit crimes. If we did, we would always find the common thread of physical, verbal, and emotional abuse in the upbringing of these "disposable" members of our society. Belle Haven (and other communities with high rates of crime), would benefit from a project to educate new parents about the dangers of mistreating children, and the connection between mistreatment, and bad outcomes that encompass everything from truancy, academic failure, alcohol and substance abuse, gang involvement, to crime.

Money spent educating and supporting parents in the hard job of raising children in poverty, would go a long way in sparing us from ever-growing expenditures to patch up preventable damage with the never-enough tools of law enforcement and incarceration.

In spite of all the evidence to the contrary, we as a society still haven't advanced enough to recognize childrens'rights, and guarantee their equal protection. Children are the only members of society not protected against what the Harvard University's Center on the Developing Child calls Toxic Stress. Stress as in prolonged and frequent adversity caused by the different forms of abuse. You hit a senior person, they call it elder abuse. You beat your wife, or husband, you get charged with domestic violence. You hit a child, they call it discipline. Even hard-core inmates have more protection against physical punishment than we provide children--the most fragil members of our society.

The judges could have given the mother a benign sentence in the form of mandatory parenting classes. But to rule that she was within her right to beat her daughter, was a slap on the face of those who will forever suffer the effects of having been hurt by those in charge of protecting them.

Disclosure: I am biased on this subject. I translated Plain Talk About Spanking by Jordan Riak, into Spanish. You can find that booklet and lots of information on this topic here: