Dr Winford James

The war against children

By Dr. Winford James
August 28, 2005
Posted: September 15, 2005

I do not believe in corporal punishment of children, and one of my main reasons is that there are superior alternatives to it - like hugs and kisses; rational understanding of offensive child behaviour and consequent non-violent correction; and development of the child's ability to reason and understand right and wrong. I believe these softer responses are more intelligent and knowledgeable, more mature, more respectful of the child's personhood, and more effective. I also believe they have been tried far less often and consistently than corporal punishment. Children are by definition innocents in need of a quality of care and guidance that would maximize their chances of meaningfully negotiating the world, not humans who come so behaviourally flawed or ill-equipped that they require violent correction. I think it is the latter view of children that allows the creation of monsters like Joseph Kony.

Who is Joseph Kony? He is the rebel leader of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) that operates out of southern Sudan and in northern Uganda and has been engaged in a 15-year war against Uganda's government and military. He was an illiterate altar boy who at age 25 acquired the leadership of the resistance movement among the Acholi people that had been formed against atrocities perpetrated by the Ugandan government. But, as so often happens in war, he quickly imitated the butchery of the government forces. He now considers himself, if not a reincarnation of Jesus Christ, certainly a special servant of God who has been granted almost unlimited powers over his followers, including the power to determine who lives and who dies, and the power to make sex slaves of pre-teenage girls.

Joseph Kony is a monster by virtue of his murderous self-delusion, but the thing I find most dastardly about him is his violent undoing of children. He hunts them down and forces them to become soldiers in his misguided army, and he is so far gone in his monstrous righteousness that - brace yourself for this! - he even orders his boy soldiers to kill their mothers on the pain of gruesome torture and death. Lord have mercy!

Quite clearly, children are easy preys for violent adults; they are small, weak, defenseless, trusting, and manipulable. So you can imagine their status and fate when the adults consider themselves to be endorsed by God!

In his mad self-constructed holiness or divinity, Kony quite clearly does not see children as having personhood or as needing love and care. Rather, he sees them as dispensable tools in his God-ordained, holy rebellion. Indeed, in addition to hypnotizing them into believing that they are agents of God, he tries to get them to believe that their being forced into violent soldiery is divine punishment for some wrongdoing or unworthiness.

The Kony case is obviously an extreme one: it does not seem that the average adult gets that violent against children, but it is the consequence in part of a view of children as naturally possessed of behaviour that is so bad that it needs violence or heavy-handedness rather than love. I give you less extreme but still violent cases below.

Five-year-old Kurt who has a tendency to be clumsy trips over a chair leg and breaks a glass. His father takes his big hand and boxes his face wrong-side.

Eight-year-old Kitty cannot figure out her sums, gets her mother angry, and receives a blow to the back that sprawls her out on the floor.

Fifteen-year-old Anva disobeys his mother's instruction to sweep the yard, and his father when he comes home ties him to a tree and gives him forty lashes with a broad, hard-leather belt.

Not for the first time, eleven-year-old Sandra forgets to watch the pot, and so the stewing meat burns. Her mother is so enraged that she chokes her until she collapses.

I can virtually hear some parents protesting that they do not treat their children so harshly when they slip up; that they give them just a few lashes on the palm of their hands, or pinch them so they can feel, or pull their ear.... They say it is a question of moderation. Well, while one parent's moderate violence could leave the child unscarred and intact, another parent's might leave him badly injured or even dead. In any event, the question is whether a response motivated by caring, love, and respect, and characterized by understanding, reasoning, and showing would not have yielded happier results in all the scenarios above.

The Joseph Kony extremism should tell us how corruptive and destructive a wrong view of children can be.

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