Perspectives | Children

Disciplining children remains hostage to violence

By - 06.12.2019

Despite increased awareness, child abuse is still practiced in Kosovo.

The children of the 1960s and 1970s generations remember their parents beating them for the slightest hassle. They even remember cases when one of the children caused trouble and parents beat all the children. This form of violence was often applied on the grounds that this is the only way to educate children.

At that time, violence against children was not only practiced in the family, but also in schools. Classes didn’t start without a stick for teachers to hit noisy students. Nowadays the stick is absent, but not the violence.

It is easy to see that we are a society that still sees violence as a solution, even in relation to children. On the streets, in public transport, at home, we are witnesses of the discourse that adults use against children — “Hush or I’ll beat you”, “You need to beat him/her to make him/her understand”, or “I give them some slaps and they don’t make noise.”

Parents, educators, or even relatives who say these expressions, seem not to think of the consequences that these can have on the growth and development of children.

Data from the rule of law institutions — as well as local and international child rights organizations — confirm that violence against children, whether physical or psychological, continues to be widespread in Kosovo.

Head of the Child Protection Sector at the UNICEF Kosovo office, Afrim Ibrahimi, points out that violence against children in Kosovo is a phenomenon manifested in many ways, both in the family, in schools, and on a gender basis.

Data from the Kosovo Multiple Indicators Survey for 2013-2014 show that 61.4% of children aged from one to 14 years old have experienced psychological violence or corporal punishment. For the Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian communities, the percentage is even higher. According to the Special Survey of these communities, 71% of children aged one to 14 years old have experienced at least some form of corporal or psychological punishment.

"To a certain extent, violence is justified by the children themselves, seen more as a form of discipline"

Donjeta Kelmendi, KOMF

Kosovo Police reports on child maltreatment express a consistent trend: In 2017 there were 243 cases reported, 244 last year, and this year from January to March there were 37 cases.

Meanwhile, “Analysis of Attitudes, Incidence and Institutional Responses to Domestic Violence in Kosovo, Enough with Justifications” conducted by the Kosovo Women’s Network in 2015, shows that awareness of physical violence in the home has increased. The study found that slapping children is considered a form of domestic violence by 81.1% of respondents.

According to the same study, in 2015, around 33% of respondents agreed that “sometimes a child should be punished with a slap”, a decrease from 2008 when about 46% of respondents agreed with this statement.

What protection does the law provide?

Even though awareness of child abuse has increased in recent years, according to Donjeta Kelmendi, director of the Coalition of Non-Governmental Organizations for Child Protection,  KOMF, corporal punishment of children continues to be a socially accepted norm in our society. “To a certain extent, violence is justified by the children themselves, seen more as a form of discipline,” she says.

According to the Ombudsperson Institution, corporal punishment of children is still seen as a form of education and discipline. This happens because “the majority of parents / educators / teachers themselves were brought up in a society where corporal punishment has been an acceptable form. This way of thinking and living has been passed on to children.”

The child protection law — adopted this year — condemns any form of violence and child abuse, says KOMF director Donjeta Kelmendi. According to her, “the law requires Centers for Social Work (CSW) and the police to intervene in the family, when referred to, or in cases when there is a reasonable suspicion that the family is not able to protect the child from the risk of life, violence, neglect, maltreatment, abuse and exploitation”.

CSWs are municipal bodies that are mandated, among other things, to provide social care for children who are victims of family conflicts.

For the first time in Kosovo, according to Kelmendi, the Law prohibits any corporal punishment and disciplinary measures that impair the dignity of the child, including mental violence as well as “behaviors that degrade, embarrass” and put the child in an unfortunate situation. “Corporal punishment is forbidden in every environment, at home, in the family, in educational institutions, in care institutions, in law enforcement and judiciary, in the workplace and in the community,” she says.

When interpreting the law, it can also be said that it protects children through interventions and service delivery, according to the needs, aimed at the development and well-being of children in their home environment, or by placing them in alternative care in cases where they can’t be left to the care of parents.

In his opinion on the impact of violence on the health and social life of children and on the measures to be taken by the responsible institutions, the Ombudsman, recommended that children need to receive continuous engagement and commitment. They need this principally from state institutions. The state institutions are, in fact, required to do so in accordance with current legislation.

In addition, the Ombudsperson has requested that concrete measures and plans be implemented to adequately address this issue.

If we analyze the reasons for such a high level of violence in our society, the common motive is systematic violence practiced generation after generation.

One concrete plan is the Action Plan deriving from the National Strategy  for the Protection from Domestic Violence 2016 – 2020. The Strategy states that not reporting child abuse is considered a criminal offense. Therefore “anyone who doesn’t report criminal offenses occurring within a family, can be prosecuted. “

Domestic violence “against children, elders and people with disabilities,” according to the Strategy, remains unreported in the relevant institutions. At the same time, it also states that the necessary infrastructure “to protect and support women, children or other family members who suffer violence” is not available in Kosovo.

It also lays out some objectives to combat violence against children. These include: Building the capacity of professionals, encouraging victims to report cases of violence, increasing citizens’ trust in relevant institutions, and raising society’s awareness against the toleration of domestic violence.

Hurt people, hurt people

It is not only the lack of infrastructure and institutional capacities that causes this situation. The burden of blame rests on our society, because how a family raises their children determines behavior in a society.

If we analyze the reasons for such a high level of violence in our society, the common motive is systematic violence practiced generation after generation.

Psychologist Ibelinda Halili sees violence against children as a result of the violence that parents or caregivers have personally experienced. “Persons who exhibit violence have, in most cases, been victims of violence themselves,” she says.

She also says that there are other reasons why violence in our society is recognized as a method for solving many problems, not just for disciplining children.

"Children who grow up in such [violent] circumstances will undoubtedly have no autonomy and in the future they will find it difficult to make decisions and act independently"

Visar Sadiku, clinical psychologist

Persons (parents or educators) who take care of children and use violence, whether physical or psychological, may be suffering from a serious mental disorder,” she explains. “These persons are easily identifiable when accessible, but when isolated, it is very difficult to identify them. So the problem could be addressed before causing any physical or psychological pathology to children who experience systemic violence.”

It is important to address cases in a timely manner, and to raise public awareness of the forms and ways of violence Halili says. “The population needs to be educated because often people have no information about the consequences of any form of violence.”

Society suffers all the consequences

Clinical psychologist Visar Sadiku says, “Children who grow up in such [violent] circumstances will undoubtedly have no autonomy and in the future, they will find it difficult to make decisions and act independently.”

He points out that violence has never brought about proper solutions to problems, or improved child behavior.

“External motives appear to be an incentive for children to behave in a certain way but parents or primary caregivers are the ones who can reinforce or modify these behaviours,” he says. “Unfortunately, in some cases where misconduct is encountered, physical violence can be used as a means of discipline.”

Sadiku also explains some of the consequences of violence against children. “By applying physical violence as an educational tool, the importance of communication as an effective means of discipline can be diminished, leaving even more opportunity for the intensity of physical violence to increase, but without positive effects on behavior modification,” he says.

“If the baby needs to cry, parents have to wait until the storm passes. The best thing a parent can do is wait until the child calms down, and they should never address them with the words ‘hush or I’ll beat you”.

Ibelinda Halili, psychologist

Furthermore,  Sadiku continues that “children who grow up in environments where physical violence is practiced are more likely to experience various emotional problems such as anxiety, depression, constant guilt, fear and insecurity throughout their lives.”

Disciplining children through violence has other consequences too, making them problematic children, says psychologist Ibelinda Halili. “Children who grow up with violence tend to exhibit aggressive behaviour, such as hitting themselves, throwing their toys and this [violence] creates the belief that he or she is an unwanted child in the family or in society”.

Halili urges parents and educators to replace the verbal violence displayed with threatening discourse with the words: “You are a good boy or a good girl”, “there is no need to behave this way” if he/she has thrown something on the ground, he/she should be told with words that this behavior is not appropriate.

“If the baby needs to cry, parents should wait until the storm is over. The best thing a parent can do is wait until the baby calms down, but the parent should never address them with the words ‘Hush, or I’ll beat you,” she advises.

Feature Image: Arrita Katona / K2.0.