March 30, 2015
Dear Senator Burdick,
Last month, a man in Georgia was convicted of murder for forcing a 12-year-old boy to stand for hours in the midday sun holding heavy cans of paint until he collapsed, and then kicking the boy several times in the head. His explanation was that the child had been disobedient. The same week, a woman in Florida sent her child to school covered in bruises and wearing a shirt which proclaimed this beating a punishment for poor grades. Sadly, official reports expose only a fraction of child abuse cases. I envision a future in which such actions are not just illegal, but unthinkable: a future in which every child’s freedom from violence is guaranteed. I believe that extending to children the basic human rights that most adults take for granted is an essential step toward creating such a future.
For decades there has been mounting evidence (outlined by Joan Durrant at the University of Manitoba and Elizabeth Gershoff at the University of Texas, among others) that physically punishing children leads to mental illnesses, addiction, and later crimes such as domestic assaults. Murray Straus at the University of New Hampshire argues that much of the violence plaguing our society can be directly traced to childhood spanking and slapping. And according to a 2010 report by Dr. Gershoff, as many as two thirds of documented cases of child physical abuse begin “as acts of corporal punishment meant to correct a child’s behavior”. But do we really need such evidence to show us the absurdity of giving children less legal protection from hitting than adults? We don’t require proof that hitting women or elderly people is harmful in order to know that it is wrong and should be illegal. Why should children be the exception? They are not property, but human beings. Why should we count their need for basic human dignity as less than our own?
I picture a world in which every child grows up feeling deep down that they belong no matter what. I believe that the adults those children become will have no need to commit acts of violence in order to feel powerful, respected, and above all, safe. I ask you to imagine how our state, our country, and our world might look in just twenty years if we stopped hitting all children today. The purpose of a law banning corporal punishment and other humiliating and degrading treatment would not be to criminalize parents, but rather to affirm every child’s right to bodily integrity and the respect of their caregivers. Forty-six countries as of March 2015 have already enacted similar laws, and 194 nations have ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Many Americans would call this an attack on parents’ freedom to raise their children as they see fit. But in the end, whose freedom to live is truly the most important?