In quite a few conversations I have had with people my age group about growing up in Nigeria, I have found that many of the things experienced in those young years was abuse. Unfortunately though, they didn’t even know it was abuse because of course they could not recognise it. It had become all too familiar or because it was called another name entirely – discipline.
I will put discussing child sexual abuse on hold for this blog post because I do not feel that I can do the topic enough justice in one same post, also because even though we can never talk about sexual abuse enough, it already has it’s name and space in the community, a platform of sort, however we do not have the same (atleast not in equal momentum) for emotional and physical abuse or even just neglect of kids. I am no authority on children discipline but some punishments are barbaric to say the least and since I first heard it, I have never gotten over the horror that parents did put a snake (albeit dead) near or around a sleeping child to ensure she woke up at midnight to prevent wetting the bed.
A popular sayings and quite frankly an annoying one I mostly hear when discussing “wrong doings” (for lack of a better word) of older people on younger ones is “you can’t give what you don’t have” which to be honest is a true statement but I find more of a silly excuse for adults behaving badly than an actual saying. It often comes up as a cultural effect of grown ups never being in the wrong especially when dealing with children.
I do recall growing up that it was a taboo of sorts to say that an adult was lying never mind that it could actually be true that they were lying. An incidence occurred when I told my dad that a visitor was blatantly lying and although I could tell that he (my father) believed me, he corrected me in front of the guest by saying – “no, you don’t say an adult has lied, just say your own truth.” But what if they have lied? How does a seven year old insist she’s being truthful when an adult can never lie?
Child abuse is never only physical or sexual or violent. It is emotional too and it often runs in the same cycle, which is where the – you cannot give what you don’t have sentence comes to play. I have seen time and time again for instance how some people were treated horribly by their parents and hated it so much but had to bare it because they had no other choice only to repeat this same horrendous treatment that scarred them for life on their own children. I find this cycle rather confusing. You inflict the very thing you hated, the very thing that made you weep noiselessly in your room at night on your own children then someone gives the excuse that it is because that is all you’ve ever know yourself? How about you decide that you will not do to another human what was done to you that made you so sad? One would have hoped that the abused would easily identify with compassion.
It’s easy to lie and deceive everyone but ourselves about how some of the “treatments” from childhood made us disciplined and better off for it or sometimes tough, but we both know that is false. Getting 30 strokes of koboko for breaking a plate or using a snake to instill fear is not discipline. It is ABUSE, of all kinds. It speaks more of the twisted behaviour and mind of the perpetrator than whatever indiscipline the child may be projecting. It is always easier to haunt someone who can’t or is unable to retaliate.
These stories make me cringe and sometimes I’m near thinking they are false or exaggerated but even my own mother told me of the punishment my grandmother gave to girls who didn’t seat properly with their knees pressed together like a true lady. She kept the water that she used to rinse her olo (the traditional pepper grinder) right after grinding hot pepper and onions uncovered, up on a shelf ready to be flung in between the thighs of any girl whose legs were spread apart while seated. One of the things to know when using traditional olo is to never ever let your hand touch the pepper. So imagine watery pepper splashed in between your bare thighs originally targeted of course at your vagina just because your legs were spread apart. This, is abuse. And anyone who justifies doing it in the name of poise and discipline needs to be checked by a psychiatrist.
When Nigerian parents threaten their kids by saying “I will beat you so hard you will bleed from every part of your body, then I will take you to the hospital myself,” I want to ask them if they know that people go to jail in sane countries for such acts. I want to ask them whose money covers the hospital bill and if they realise they are actually shooting themselves in the foot. I did think that the threat about breaking china plates and mother’s using the broken parts to give tribal marks on the offender’s face was a joke until I actually read about a woman who did.
Then there is denying your children food for days as “punishment” too, mostly because well you were also denied food back in the day for stealing fried fish and look, you didn’t die.
So you didn’t die back in the day agreed but is that truly discipline? Discipline as what or for what? Does that make it right? Is hunger a thing to toy with? How does hunger install discipline? Help me understand? If anything it fuels indiscipline. Think stealing, begging, ojukokoro that will be covetousness in English I think.
Speaking of emotional abuse, while there are no physical marks to show on the body for emotional abuse, it can scar a child for life. Same with neglect. Insisting that your child is just throwing tantrums without dealing with the root cause or constantly criticising them until their self esteem is damaged. Children need support even after they become adults and while you may think you buy them new shoes every term or take them out to chicken republic every Sunday or even replace lost cell phones very quickly, emotional neglect can happen when you don’t provide deliberate and consistent support for a particular need of the child e.g doing nothing about their being bullied at school by teacher and student alike or telling them to toughen up because boarding school is not for the faint hearted when they return home with half their school supplies stolen.
I remember that a Primary school teacher once hit me with a long heavy wooden ruler on my knuckles. He specifically asked me to make a fist and show him my knuckles before hitting me with the ruler several times. I can hardly remember what it was punishment for but it bled so badly and it looked to me like he woke up that morning with the sole intention to inflict pain. My mother would have non of it. So she marched to school. And even though I got a few stares as the child whose mother ran to school to “save” her, the teacher was cautioned and that mode of punishment stopped at me. He never tried it on any kid afterwards.
This type of behaviour is no doubt from stored up anger and hangups that have not been previously dealt with but are easily lashed out on children because they are the ones who can’t complain, who can’t fight back, who our culture has taught to be quiet when adults are speaking.
It is by all means a parent’s decision to discipline their child the way they deem feet, but it is important to always check yourself before dishing out punishment if it isn’t a case of you taking out your anger or frustration on them. Punishment is a major part of raising kids wholly, but ask yourself truly if 30 strokes for a child who brings a woeful result home will improve his result next term. Ask yourself what throwing a coin at a child’s forehead for forgetting to lock the door means. (This is a true story I personally witnessed a mother do by the way. The swell on the boy’s head did not reduce for days.) It mostly means you have anger issues and you can think of no better way to handle the situation than inflicting pain. If you are quick to land slaps and knocks, quick to draw the leather belt from your trouser, it speaks more of your character than whatever it is a child may have possibly done.