Harsh lessons

The jail terms handed out by a Norway court to Anupama and Vallabhaneni Chandrasekar, an Indian couple who were convicted on charges of ‘gross or repeated maltreatment’ of their child, should serve as a wake-up call for other parents.

Violence and corporal punishment of children, which often goes under the name of ‘disciplining’ a child here in India, is frowned upon in several countries and will attract severe punishment from the courts. This is a message that Indian parents living abroad need to take heed of.

They must abide by the law in the country they have chosen to live in and cannot plead that their parenting style is influenced by cultural practices at home. Norway’s tough stance against poor parenting is not without reason. The Norwegian state has stepped in to take responsibility of protecting vulnerable children seriously. This is an example that other governments, including India’s, would do well to emulate.

Of course, there have been instances in Norway of children of immigrant parents being handed over to foster care because the parents did not provide the child with enough toys or a separate bedroom. These instances reveal lack of sensitivity to the parenting practices of other cultures. However, under no circumstances can beating and abuse of children be justified, especially when the child has emotional problems or learning difficulties, as did the son of the Vallabhanenis.

Many in India, who believe in the adage that sparing the rod will spoil the child, are likely to see no wrong in the parenting style of the Vallabhanenis. Beating a child to discipline him, they will argue, is in the child’s best interest. Nothing is further from the truth. Scores of studies have revealed that punishing a child or subjecting him to threats and violence leaves him scarred for life. Providing positive incentives is a better way to alter behaviour.

Indians here and abroad need to draw lessons from the ugly episode involving the Vallabhanenis. New parenting practices are emerging from research into children’s problems and these indicate that problems like stammering, bed-wetting, poor performance at school or aggressive behaviour are best tackled by loving care and seeking the help of counsellors. Beating children is indefensible, whether or not ‘our culture’ allows it.  In the instant case, if the Vallabhanenis are ready to express remorse, the court should consider reversing the harsh punishment imposed on them.

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