YEMEN: Parents break cycle of corporal punishment
By Alice Hackman, Yemen Times, June 3, 2009

SANA'A, June 3 — Towards ending corporal punishment in Yemen, Save the Children and the Ministry of Education last week held discussions with up to 200 parents on non-violent methods to make their children behave.

Supported by the United Nations' Children's Fund, the four-day training sessions targeted mothers and fathers of pupils from 30 schools in Sana'a, Aden, Taiz and Lahj, to reinforce similar workshops with their teachers earlier this spring.

Although corporal punishment is banned in Yemeni schools by ministerial decree, it is still lawful at home, and researcher Dr. Abdullah Al-Yahri recently found that up to 80 percent of mothers in rural areas use the method to discipline their children.

Not only does the practice adversely affect a child's cognitive development and progress in school, researchers have found, but its persistence at home also undermines efforts to expel the detrimental practice from educational institutions.

"We changed the teacher's thinking in schools, but it's good to have cooperation between parents and teachers to diminish violence against children," said Aisha Saeed, protection program specialist at Save the Children.

"We learnt to listen to our children, and encourage them," said Saeed Ghalib, a father of five from Lahj who took part in the training. "I sometimes used to hit my children if they did something very bad, but now I would guide them so as not to do it again."

"What is prevalent from the training is that, in bringing up their children, parents repeat the way they were brought up," said trainer Abdulghafoor Ali, who holds a MA in Education and Psychology and has been taking part in the training in Aden.

Save the Children’s latest study has found that over 92 percent of parents surveyed used forms of humiliating punishment to discipline their children- although in most cases combined with other positive methods, while up to 26 percent of their children approved physical and humiliating punishment to make them learn.

The best way to break the cycle of abusive behaviors towards the next generation is to hold continuous training sessions to provide alternatives, he said. Especially for those with little or no education, reference to Islamic teachings is very effective.

"In one Hadith, the Prophet said to teach your children to pray when they are seven, and beat them if they don't when they are ten," he explained. "But the Prophet used a suwak [small wooden stick to brush one's teeth], not a stick. It meant: Advise your children."

"Many parents lead a very difficult life, are jobless and fight to feed their children," added trainer Ilham Raidan, social worker in a school on the outskirts of Aden with an MA in Social Sciences. "When they come home, they are angry and tend to take it out on their children. But parents have been extremely responsive to the training."

Two to three parents from each of the 30 targeted schools attended the training, and are expected to return home and tell others what they have learnt. Through this ripple effect, Save the Children and the ministry's trainers hope to reach as many parents as possible.

A healthy dose of affection

Training focused on listening to children, encouraging them and showing them affection. A loving environment encourages development, and fathers in particular were encouraged to be more demonstrative with their sons and daughters.

"I tried to motivate the fathers to show affection to there children," said Ali. "We fathers tend to want to show our sons that they should be strong, that they should be men, but we should also show them that we love them."

"I never hit my children, they are like my brothers and sisters," said father of five Mohammad Mohsen from Lahj. "But I benefited hugely by learning about how to treat children according to their age and mentality."

Save the Children hopes to expand teacher and parent training to the national level in the future, said Saeed, but for now the organization will conduct an impact study to evaluate the project's success in the four targeted governorates.

Although corporal punishment is lawful at home in Yemen, children are legally protected from violence and abuse by the 2002 Children’s Rights Act and the 1994 Yemeni Penal Code, according to grassroots initiative End Corporal Punishment.

Yemen ratified the United Nation's Convention of the Rights of the Child, which protects children from violence and abuse, in 1991.

Despite legislation proposals, Israel is the only country in the Middle East to have prohibited corporal punishment at home, according to End Corporal Punishment. In contrast, 13 out of 22 countries in the region have banned the practice in schools.

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