For generations, adults have traditionally punished children for their wrongdoings by inflicting physical pain, in practices collectively known as corporal punishment.
Though still a common practice in several Southeast Asian countries, four NGOs have been working to change that through a three-year regional cultural campaign titled Love Does Not Hurt.
The campaign, a multinational collaboration between the Philippine Educational Theatre Association (PETA), GabFai Community Theatre Group Thailand, the Association for Community Development Laos and the Phare Ponleu Selpak Association Cambodia, aims to promote positive discipline through the media of interactive theatre and creative arts.
The campaign hopes to mitigate corporal punishment, and both physical and emotional forms of abuse, at schools and in the community.
To achieve that, the campaign has been pushing for a change in local and national laws against corporal punishment, increasing public awareness for corporal punishment as a form of violence against children, and for positive discipline as a more effective alternative in 25 project sites across the four countries where it has been running.
Osman Khawaja, executive director of Phare Ponleu Selpak, told The Post that the organisation’s survey of communities in Cambodia found that “the lack of awareness around the harmful effects of corporal punishment on children and youth, and of positive discipline, in the communities was very low”.
Explaining the reasoning behind the selection of countries for the campaign, Khawaja said: “The challenge of ending corporal punishment still has a long way to go in these four countries.”
Funded by the German NGO Terre des Hommes, the campaign started on October 1, 2019, and ends on December 31, 2022.
“Phare decided to partner with this project upon the invitation of PETA, whom we have worked with before on artistic projects,” said Khawaja.
Khawaja said PETA sought organisations that specifically use the arts to enact social change, and that Phare, with its experience in art programming and integrated social support, was an ideal candidate.
Phare has been using circus and arts performances to promote the campaign’s aim of non-violent discipline.
The use of physical theatre combined with circus and live music to perform shows with relevant messaging around corporal punishment and positive discipline by Phare students has been an effective way to engage the public, said Khawaja.
He said the performances allow for such topics to be shared visually and emotionally to engage the audience, after which they are able to able to engage in fruitful discussions.
He added that the organisation’s survey also showed that emotional and physical abuse and punishment is still widely used in Cambodia, which strongly affects the growth of children – negatively impacting their capacity and interest in learning.
Corporal punishment has also proven to be a vicious cycle. “Studies have also shown that children that have been abused will, in future, have a very high chance of using corporal punishment on their own children,” said Khawaja.
He added that using corporal punishment on children lowers their self-esteem, weakens self-control and promotes negative expectations of themselves.
Children that have experience of corporal punishment “feel lonely, sad and abandoned”.
“Such punishment promotes a negative view of other people and of society as a threatening place,” said Khawaja.
He said corporal punishment creates barriers that impede parent-child communication and damages the emotional links established between them.
In severe cases, it stimulates anger and a desire to run away from home.
The partner organisations have been sharing training resources that have been contextualised for local culture-specific situations. They have also worked together to organise more regional online conferences.
The campaign has strengthened the capacity of adult caregivers, officials, teachers and advocates from CBOs and NGOs to educate children in the areas of their own rights with regards to corporal punishment, and positive discipline, said Khawaja.
“Children and youth have been strengthened in their awareness of their own capacities and rights. They are able to demand their rights to end the practice of corporal punishment at home, in school, in communities, in alternative care facilities and in policies,” he said.
Khawaja said that they have been working with elected officials, including commune councillors, to raise awareness amongst parents and educators about child rights and child protection, “to help them understand that their actions of beating and insulting are considered a violation of a child’s rights”.
The campaign has also been sharing with local communities methods to use positive discipline or positive communication within their own families.
Phare has set up a project through a memorandum of understanding with the Department of Education to provide training to public school teachers to stop using corporal punishment at school and to instead promote positive discipline.
The three-year campaign has found success so far, having reached out to 2,940 children and 680 adolescents in 25 project sites in six provinces in the four Southeast Asian countries.
Khawaja said that moving forward, the campaign hopes to lead to “implementation of relevant laws where they don’t already exist”.
For more details about the Love Does not Hurt campaign, visit Phare’s Facebook page: www.facebook.com/phareponleuselpak/videos/513888829833179.