Dec 20, 2016: His Holiness Pope Francis has an opportunity this Christmas (December 25) to reduce the suffering of countless millions of children in Bangladesh and throughout the world, and bring happiness to them. I pray he will take it.
A while back the popular spiritual leader of about 1.2-billion Roman Catholics made remarks that could be interpreted as an endorsement of corporal punishment to children. His casual words caused an uproar that both horrified and outraged child protection campaigners worldwide.
While recalling a conversation he had with a father who told him that on occasions he hits his children if they have been naughty, His Holiness, smiling and miming the action of slapping a child on the bottom, said: “One time, I heard a father say, ‘At times I have to hit my children a bit, but never in the face so as not to humiliate them.’
“That’s great. He had a sense of dignity. He should punish, do the right thing, and then move on.”
On the surface the words seem harmless enough. Anyone else could have said them and nobody would have even raised an eyebrow, but the fact remains they were uttered by the Pope and what he says carries enormous influence.
Peter Newell, the co-ordinator of the Global Alliance to End Corporal Punishment of Children, was among the first to express grief and echo the sorrow felt worldwide: “It is disappointing that anyone (the Pope) with that sort of influence would make such a comment,” he said.
To err is human… and His Holiness is entitled to make a slip of the tongue like anyone else. His off-the-cuff remarks, however, could have opened the floodgates of corporal punishment, even given it a good name, and helped promote the torture and abuse of children in Christian schools and homes (especially) throughout the world.
‘If the Pope said corporal punishment is okay, then it must be okay’ is likely to be the catch phrase and all the permission needed by the perpetrators (ignorant teachers and ignorant parents) to execute heinous cruelty upon children. Whatever way you look at it, whatever pretty name given to the act, Corporal punishment remains the same, it’s still child abuse. There are no degrees of wrong, they are all equally wrong. Truth is inflexible. Corporal punishment only teaches a child that violence is right and demonstrates practical lessons in its use.
Eminent Bangladeshi Supreme Court Justices, Md. Imman Ali and Md. Sheikh Hassan Arif described corporal punishment as: “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a clear violation of a child’s fundamental right to life, liberty and freedom”.
While I’m in no doubt that His Holiness was attempting to endear himself more to his all-loving family audience, he needs to put an end to the confusion his remarks have generated worldwide and that is relatively simple for him to do.
His Holiness delivers a message to the world on Christmas Day each year. It is probably the most widely publicised news item of the year internationally with countless translations (TV, Radio and Press) and reaches all corners of the earth in full, or in abbreviated form.
Through Dhaka-based Cardinal Patrick D’Rozario, one of the Pope’s principal advisers and heir to the papal throne should the incumbent Pope die or resign, I have made an appeal asking him to request Pope Francis to address the issue of corporal punishment this Christmas and set the record straight. I pray His Holiness will accede to my request.
Violence is not the answer to anything. A violent society is not one most people would embrace, so why violence should be taught in schools or condoned in homes is deplorable. Let the process of purification of society begin by spiritual leaders of the world speaking out against the practice.
Maulana Muhammad Khan Sherani, Chairman Council of Islamic Ideology, recently said that Islam strictly prohibits physical punishment of both males and females. There is room at the podium for other spiritual leaders, including Pope Francis, to join with him in denouncing the out-dated uncivilised custom.
(The writer is a former newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, an award-winning writer, humanitarian, a royal goodwill ambassador, and a human rights activist who campaigned for five years to abolish corporal punishment in Bangladesh)