Wednesday, March 17, 2010

What is child abuse? An international Perspective:

Child rearing is affected by the cultures view of abuse to a child. However, there is much gray area and disagreement about what is defined as abuse in different cultures and countries.

What about spanking?
In trying to discipline children many parents use spanking or other corporal punishment to discipline their children and show then what is okay and not okay to do. However, views on corporal punishment have much variation. Is it abuse?
In Sweden (as well as other European countries) spanking and all corporal punishment is illegal, as it is considered abusive. The US has hotly debated the legalities of spanking in recent years in Massachusetts and California. American’s are generally not in support of the state intervening with a parent’s choice to spank their child, as they don’t see it as abuse.
The culture/perspective of the parents affects the outcome of corporal punishment on the child. One study in the US showed that the long term effects of corporal punishment are different in African American families than in white middle class families. The difference was because the white middle class families felt they were not supposed to spank their children, so if they did, it was because they were emotionally frustrated. On the other hand, in African American families, corporal punishment is a consequence without such emotional charge; therefore the children do not get nearly as much harm from being spanked in African American families. In fact, it was an affected means of discipline (although not as much as time outs, etc) (Berk, Laura). This study shows that the long term effects of “abuse” or “punishment” depend on the meaning of those giving it.

What about female circumcision? (Female Genital Mutilation -aka FGM)
The women in the following link think that it is helpful to their daughters to have their clitorises cut off.
The mothers say it is normal, and that it helps the girl be calm and have self-restraint. However, in western societies, FGM is usually considered abusive to a young girl.
If cutting off a piece of girls’ genitals is considered traumatic and abusive…

What about circumcision of baby boys? They have no ability to give consent and are also strapped down while a piece of their genitals is cut off. In the US most males are circumcised, and the same rational is used: that it is normal and the boy would not like it if he were not circumcised. In Australia and Europe, circumcision is not done routinely (but for religious and particular health reasons), and movements banning it age gaining momentum.

Some questions:

Is it okay for any culture to decide what abuse to a child is? What if that includes female genital mutilation or striking a child?

How much difference does the culture’s meaning of the “abuse” change the experience of those being “abused”? (Think of the study cited above.) Is circumcision or FGM less harmful if the culture has positive connotations for it?

Do you think spanking is abuse? Why or why not?

Do you think male or female circumcision is abuse? Why or why not?

This post was presented by: Annika Ecklund, Carolyn Kaufman, Sally Pitcher, Stephanie Vassillion, Karl Daruwala, Elissa May

Berk, Laura. (2004/7) Development through the Lifespan. Boston: Allyn & Bacon. Fourth Edition


  1. People used to think it was necessary to "spank" adult members of the community, military trainees, and prisoners. In some countries they still do. In our country, it is considered sexual battery if a person over the age of 18 is "spanked", but only if over the age of 18.

    For one thing, because the buttocks are so close to the genitals and so multiply linked to sexual nerve centers, striking them can trigger powerful and involuntary sexual stimulus in some people. There are numerous physiological ways in which it can be sexually abusive, but I won't list them all here. One can use the resources I've posted if they want to learn more.

    Child buttock-battering vs. DISCIPLINE:

    Child buttock-battering (euphemistically labeled "spanking","swatting","switching","smacking", "paddling",or other cute-sounding names) for the purpose of gaining compliance is nothing more than an inherited bad habit.

    Its a good idea for people to take a look at what they are doing, and learn how to DISCIPLINE instead of hit.

    I think the reason why television shows like "Supernanny" and "Dr. Phil" are so popular is because that is precisely what many (not all) people are trying to do.

    There are several reasons why child bottom-slapping isn't a good idea. Here are some good, quick reads recommended by professionals:

    Plain Talk About Spanking
    by Jordan Riak,

    The Sexual Dangers of Spanking Children
    by Tom Johnson,

    by Lesli Taylor M.D. and Adah Maurer Ph.D.

    Most compelling of all reasons to abandon this worst of all bad habits is the fact that buttock-battering can be unintentional sexual abuse for some children. There is an abundance of educational resources, testimony, documentation, etc available on the subject that can easily be found by doing a little research with the recommended reads-visit the website of Parents and Teachers Against Violence In Education at

    Just a handful of those helping to raise awareness of why child bottom-slapping isn't a good idea:

    American Academy of Pediatrics,
    American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry,
    American Psychological Association,
    Center For Effective Discipline,
    Churches' Network For Non-Violence,
    Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
    Parenting In Jesus' Footsteps,
    Global Initiative To End All Corporal Punishment of Children,
    United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

    In 26 countries, child corporal punishment is prohibited by law (with more in process). In fact, the US was the only UN member that did not ratify the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

  2. Yes, infant circumcision is the euphemism used in this sick, violent, religion-damaged US for male sexual mutilation. It has to be outlawed because this horrendous practice of torture and mutilation of helpless healthy baby boys is a notable human rights violation and due to the fact that the penis is PERMANENTLY damaged anatomically, neurologically and physiologically by this illegitimate and risky surgery on a baby's healthy, normal, intact, TINY penis. The sexual damage is truly awful. [Never listen to any sexually mutilated ("circumcised") man who says "nothing is wrong with me. My sex life is so wonderful!" He's never known what normal is because he was literally ripped off and cheated at the start of his life!! The statements such men make are worthless.] This vile practice in US medicine continues because: Americans are brainwashed, US MDs are liars on this matter (as well as being greedy for the easy money made by this atrocity and fraud), because most US-born men (including male MDs) and boys are sexually mutilated (and these men fear and hate the normal, natural intact penis and its owner), and in US med schools the students get no correct (or any at all!) info on the foreskin and its essential purposes and value.

  3. Phoenix - I was not aware of the relationship between spanking and sexual abuse that can occur. That is an interesting point that I am glad you mentioned.

    Stan - I agree with the negative aspects of circumcision that you state. And I do think it is important to show the flaws in logic that supports the mutilation of babies' genitals, especially within my own country.
    However, I don't know if it so useful to completely discount all men who are circumcised and are fine with it as having "worthless" statements. Yes, of course their statements are skewed and don't have a real basis of comparison, but to say their perspective does not count seems like a dogmatic exclusion, which doesn't seem realistically beneficial.

    The cultural support around circumcision of males and females shows that the perspectives of those circumcised is important, whether or not one agrees with them. For example, the women in youtube link above support female circumcision of themselves and their daughters, saying that it is normal and beneficial. To discount these women’s' words as "worthless" does not empower them towards change. In fact, it most likely strengthens their opposition to outside perspectives for what they find to be true is being completely negated. Westerner's imposing our beliefs that FGM is wrong and abusive does not stop its pervasiveness. I think of feminist advocates like Alice Walker, who have gone to Africa and tried to advocate against FGM and told by the people there to mind her own business. It is difficult to try and stand up for something you believe is write (abolishing FGM) while understanding the importance it has culturally to those you are trying to protect from it.
    There is no easy answer to this dilemma to solve, but I think the problem is important to understand, because it is more complex than an easy solution can address.

    Perhaps it is different when addressing the US, since there is not this complex post-colonial dynamic that plays in. It is easier to be simplistic with people who have more of a similar background as our own, but still, I am not convinced that it is most effective.

  4. Anyone who knows me well, knows that I always try to have the best intention for children. However I do have a problem with the topic of spanking and I do have a couple comments on the topic of circumcision.

    I see there to be a big difference between the words child abuse and spanking. I do agree that hitting your child can adversly affect their growth, however I see spanking as being different. Giving your child a light slap once in a while I feel is not something that will impact their lives negatively. However if a parent slaps their child hard and possibly having the child cry, and bruise up; i feel that is wrong. That creates fear of the parent in the child. However I would assume a light spank would only help to reinforce a point a parent is trying to make to their child if the child is misbehaving.

    I see there to be a big difference between the words child abuse and spanking. I do agree that hitting your child can adversely affect their growth, however I see spanking ossibly having the child cry, and bruise up; I feel that is wrong. That creates fear of the parent in the child. However I would assume a light spank would only help to reinforce a point a parent is trying to make to their child if the child is misbehaving.

    Now on the topic of circumcision. Unfortunately I cannot speak of female circumcision due to the fact that I do not know information about the topic. Let me start off by making a comment to Stan. Stan there is almost no credibility in your post regarding any of the information you mentioned. When you give me some concrete evidence showing that circumcising the penis is deadly, then talk to me but until then you have no credibility. Listen I have read arguments on both sides of this issue and I have come to the consensus that like it is now circumcision should be legal. However I also do feel that if made illegal, I will not have a problem because there are some valid arguments against circumcision.

  5. For my personal experiences, I see many cultures use "spanking" as behavioral punishment to children more than anything else. I had experience it myself and my parents only do it because they love me. They wanted to grab my attention and make sure whatever I did was wrong. I never hated my parents for it because I know they care about me and its part of the tradition styles and culture. I see and heard many other stories of punishments. Such as kneeling for hours after hours, and getting hit with a broomstick. It seems more of a norm for me to see or hear than I know for others who never experienced it.