"Imagine how much better would your childhood have been if you had been disciplined with patience, understanding, and love."
Was the Positive Discipline bill necessary or redundant?
President Rodrigo Duterte recently vetoed a bill protecting children below 18 years old from physical punishment and verbal abuse.
In his veto message released on February 28, he said the bill “would allow government to extend its reach into the privacy of the family… [and] transgresses the proper boundaries of State intervention in the life of the family, the sanctity and autonomy of which is recognized by the Constitution.”
The enrolled bill is called “An Act Promoting Positive and Nonviolent Discipline, Protecting Children from Physical, Humiliating, or Degrading Acts as a Form of Punishment,” also known as the Positive Discipline bill or the “anti-palo act.”
It consolidated Senate Bill No. 1477 and House Bill No. 8239, and contained a litany of verboten punishments including “beating, kicking, slapping, lashing on any part of a child’s body with or without the use of an instrument such as broom, cane, whip or belt…the pulling of a child’s hair, shaking…[making them kneel] on stones, salt or pebbles… intimidation or threat or bodily harm…”
The list is much lengthier and quite appalling, but all these terrible acts have actually been done to children at some point or another, hence the bill. Duterte and other critics of the law brought up several arguments for the veto. Let’s look at some of them.
First, that the law disrespects parents by not allowing them to discipline their children as they see fit. The reason there is a need for this law is because many parents have crossed the line from chastisement to cruel and sadistic punishment. Studies have shown that corporal punishment causes trauma and stress to the child, often embedding attitudes and behaviors that will cause the child to become abusive themselves, perpetuating the cycle of pain.
Second, that “Western” notions of discipline are not applicable in the Philippine setting. Children all over the world regardless of nationality or ethnicity feel pain and trauma the same way.
Third, that palo ng tsinelas o sinturon, pagpapaluhod sa munggo, pingot sa tenga, and other forms of discipline have been practiced by Filipinos since “pre-colonial times.” Because a certain activity has been practiced for decades or even centuries doesn’t mean that it is right or good or fair. Justifying corporal punishment by saying that they are part of Filipino culture is a sickening attitude that serves to perpetuate child abuse.
In fact, many of our customs or practices (mga nakagawian) are wrong, hurtful, and repressive. For example, catcalling and sexual harassment were the norm decades back, but they are misogynistic and offensive to women and right-thinking men, and are now condemned.
Fourth, that the Positive Discipline act was redundant, there being other laws that protect children’s rights, including Republic Act 7610, the “Special Protection of Children Against Abuse, Exploitation and Discrimination Act;” RA 9262, “The Anti-Violence Against Women and Their Children Act;” Executive Order 209, “Family Code of the Philippines;” and Presidential Decree 603, “Child and Youth Welfare Code.”
These laws do not provide the same level of protection as did the Positive Discipline bill. According to a 2017 position paper of the Commission on Human Rights, none of the other laws “expressly prohibit physical violence against children in the form of corporal punishment. In fact, some even accepted the use of corporal punishment in disciplining their children as long as it is ‘just and reasonable’ and ‘moderate in degree.’” But without clear-cut guidelines, ‘reasonable’ and ‘moderate’ are debatable terms.
The CHR paper declared the agency’s support of the bill, citing the 2006 World Report on Violence Against Children that corporal punishment “teaches children to use violence in solving problems, and implants in them anger, resentment, and low self-esteem.”
The Positive Discipline bill was not redundant and was the chance to protect children from abuse happening every day. While some parents might think their use of physical discipline results in well-behaved kids, unbeknownst to them those children carry traumatic memories into adulthood, resulting in resentment, even hatred, of their tormentors.
Some of you will argue, “I was raised by parents who spanked and I turned out alright.” But imagine how much better would your childhood have been if you had been disciplined with patience, understanding, and love, rather than violence and pain.
Dr. Benjamin Spock: “If we are ever to turn toward a kindlier society and a safer world, a revulsion against the physical punishment of children would be a good place to start.” / FB and Twitter: @DrJennyO