Pacific discussion on child abuse vs child discipline

December 9, 2011/ Radio Australia

Child protection workers from across the Pacific are meeting in Fiji to share their success stories and to set goals for the next year.

UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund which has organised the gathering says the aim of the five days of workshops is to to ensure children are increasingly free from violence, abuse and exploitation.

Johanna Eriksson Takyo, UNICEF's Chief of Child Protection, says there are sometimes differences of opinion over what is normal disciplining of children, and what constitutes actual child abuse.

Presenter:Bruce Hill
Speaker:Johanna Eriksson Takyo, UNICEF's Chief of Child Protection

TAKYO: Of course, not just Pacific Island countries, we know that in all countries around the world that children do experience violence and abuse and exploitation in various forms, both at homes, in schools and in communities and we have through research that we have completed over the past few years, we have confirmed a pattern of quite systematic and high levels of violence and abuse of children, so that's definitely an area that we're trying to address. In terms of the more systematic challenges there's whilst there is an increased recognition of child protection as a concern and an issue that we need to address, there are sort of institutional systematic shortcomings in the sense that there are gaps in the legal and the policy frameworks, there are shortcomings in terms of the child and welfare support and service systems and of course the fact that for many, child abuse is still not seen as an issue that should be talked about or should be reported. So there are also some behavioural and attitudinal challenges that we must address.

HILL: In many parts of the Pacific, Polynesia as well as Melanesia, attitudes towards child discipline it would be fair to say are pretty robust and probably more robust than they are these days in Australia and New Zealand. Do people necessarily see discipline as child abuse or do they see it as just ordinary discipline of their children and not really anyone else's business?

TAKYO: Parents in the Pacific as parents in other countries want very good things for their children. They want children to grow up knowing what is right and what is wrong and you're right that physical punishment or corporal punishment is not always seen as abusive when it's done in the interest of the discipline and bringing up children. But I think through the discourse that UNICEF and others are able to have, we are able to also discuss the impact that physical violence and physical punishment and also what the impact of emotional and verbal abuse, the impact that it actually has on the child and through that dialogue, we're able to I think slowly by surely change some of those attitudes.

HILL: The reason I ask that is that do you sometimes come up against resistance when you talk about child abuse and physical punishment being problematic. Do you run across people from the Pacific saying well, hang on a second, you're talking about Australia and New Zealand, Europe and America, that's one thing, but here we just do things differently. Different doesn't necessarily mean wrong or bad?

TAKYO: Yeah, and I think in the conference that we've just had we did discuss a lot about this, about the language and the terminology and the words that we used and I think for UNICEF and the Child Protection Program that I'm representing and with the partners we have been discussing this issue. It's about finding the right language and not to present child protection issues and protecting children from violence and abuse and exploitation, not at a foreign concept, but in fact point out and to start to see that what is good for children and what is positive parenting practices, that is non-violent forms of parenting practices is something that is very embedded already in Pacific culture. It's where the child is part of the family unity and so we're trying to tap into those positive practices where they exist, of course highlighting where there are challenges that we still need to address, but to start from the strength based approach and to start with the positive practices that actually exist.

And it was interesting just recently in one of the countries in Vanuatu where we were doing a workshop with some church-based organisations and we tried to map out what people already arguing and what work is already going on around families and communities and what we found is that they may not call it child ? protection work, they may not call child rights work, but in essence, a lot about supporting families and supporting communities is about strengthening families and assisting those in need and it's very much very much there. We just need to strengthen it and we need to continue the dialogue and to make sure that we also highlight and address the shortcomings and where children's well being is actually at risk.


[Editing note:  Refer to archived cases that feature adoptees/children in-care who were tortured and punished, under the guise of "discipline" and "training"]


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