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Domestic CP - April 2005

Corpun file 16718

Calgary Herald, Alberta, 4 April 2005

Physical discipline depends on the culture

By Brenda Branswell, with files from Irwin Block, CanWest News Service

Physical discipline is increasingly frowned upon in western society.

But it is still common in many parts of the world -- a disconnect that occasionally lands immigrant parents in trouble with youth-protection authorities.

Some countries and cultures tolerate what is considered here to be quite severe physical discipline, said Michael Udy, executive director of Batshaw Youth and Family Centres in Montreal.

It is not only illegal, but it contravenes most people's norms, he said.

"For example, striking kids with objects or things that I've seen with my own eyes . . . the use of electrical cords to beat children."

Yes, abusive parents exist in cultural communities -- but no more than in the rest of Canadian society, contends Dr. Cecile Rousseau, who leads a transcultural psychiatry team at the Montreal Children's Hospital.

Rousseau does not advocate physical punishment. But she underlines the need for cultural sensitivity in assessing bad parenting -- and cautions against racism. What is considered violent varies from one culture to another, she said.

Discipline can often reach points where here it is considered abuse, she said.

"And, of course, this should change. But at the same time, interpreting that in terms of abuse and criminalizing that behaviour is a catastrophe for kids, not (to mention) for parents."

Her team at the hospital is spearheading a new pilot project that helps immigrants with the transition to parenting in a new culture. A small segment deals with discipline.

Even though the Supreme Court of Canada has upheld the so-called "spanking law," administering one can result in misunderstanding, suggested Deogratias Bagilishya, a psychologist at the Children's who is involved in the project.

He said kids sometimes declare: "Dad, I learned at school that you don't have the right to hit me. . . . If you hit me, I'll call 911."

Some frightened parents decide not to discipline their children anymore.

"That's common and that's disastrous," said Rousseau.

Parents should trust themselves and their traditions, but also adapt, Rousseau said.

Spanking Still Legal in Canada

Parents in Canada are legally allowed to use reasonable force in punishing their children. Section 43 of the Criminal Code -- known as Canada's spanking law -- also permits teachers to use "force by way of correction" toward a pupil. In January 2004, the Supreme Court upheld the spanking law, but set age limits for corporal punishment at no younger than two and no older than 12. The court also banned the use of objects, such as a belt or paddle, and outlawed blows and slaps to the child's head. Parents could only use "minor corrective force of a transitory and trifling nature."

In Britain, the government has proposed a compromise law allowing mild smacking that leaves no mark.

In such countries as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Croatia, Cyprus, Latvia, Italy, Germany, Austria and Israel, it is illegal to spank a child.

According to Human Rights Watch, corporal punishment is permitted as school discipline in 65 countries. In Kenya, for example, children may be spanked, slapped, caned, strapped or beaten by teachers for misbehaviour, poor academic performance or sometimes for no reason at all.

(Copyright Calgary Herald 2005)

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