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Method of parenting specific to a certain culture?

Dec 04, 2012 11:36 AM IST India India

The Norway Police has claimed that the Indian couple from Andhra Pradesh facing charges of child abuse burnt and hit their seven-year-old son with belt. CNN-IBN Deputy Editor Sagarika Ghose discussed whether the method of parenting is specific to a certain culture on the show.

Below is the full transcript of the show:

Sagarika Ghose: Hi there. A Norway court will deliver its judgement on the Indian couple accused of beating and burning their 7-year-old son. The Oslo police say the parents - Chandrashekhar and his wife Anupama - burnt their son with a metal spoon which left him with a scarred leg and hit him with a belt. The physical abuse reportedly continued over five years. The couple are in custody in Norway. We're asking the question if Indian parents are sometimes unaware of modern norms of parenting, or is the method of parenting specific to a certain culture. Let's first listen to Kurt Lir of the Oslo Police which is prosecuting the case.

"The charges are that during the period from 2007 to March 2012, in a place in Oslo, they burned him (son) with a hot spoon or metal object causing scar on his left leg. And hit him on several occasions with belt. If you commit a crime in Norway you get charged for it. And it doesn't help that you don't know that it is illegal. You may face a jail time... hitting a child will certainly put you in jail," said Kurt Lir.

If you are a parent living in Norway and you hit or burn your child, you are committing a crime and you would be put in jail. That is what the Oslo Police there is saying. And he is saying that is what the police did in this case. Now, we want you to join this particular debate here on Face The Nation. We're asking should there be universal parenting norms, irrespective of culture? Joining us tonight, Shireen Vakil Miller, Director of Advocacy, Save The Children. Suranya Aiyar, lawyer. Manali Singhal Bhandare, lawyer.

Suranya Aiyar, let's kick it off with you. You have been following, campaigning and taking up the Bhattacharyya children, who in 20/11 were also similarly separated from the parents. The Norway authorities are accusing Sagarika and Anup Bhattacharyya of child abuse. I mean this particular case the Oslo Police say that the parents have burned the child; they beat the child with a belt for five years. These are crimes in Norway, why should they not face the Norway law?

Suranya Aiyar: Sagarika, there was no allegation of abuse in the Bhattacharyya case, but let us leave that aside. You know, burning your child is a crime anywhere, let's not make it sound it is a parenting norm in India to malevolently burn your child. If a crime has been committed against a person or a child then obviously it has to be prosecuted. But what I would like to say about this case is that let the allegations or even a negative court verdict not decide finally in the minds of anybody who is interested in looking at this. I think it is still relevant and important to ask, was there proper application of mind by the judicial process in this case, or was there rubber stamping of the prosecution in this case. What is the credibility of the evidence that was presented? They say the behaviour since 2007, but I'm not even sure if the boy was with them during that entire time. Were the parents allowed to present their own expert evidence on any burn marks that were there? The grandparents had said that there were some old burns that the child had suffered during an accidental injury. And also, you know, there is one more important point that is the allegation that both the parents did this to the child, or was it that only the father did it. Because look at their behaviour, everyone knows that if you are being tried for burning your child then you are going to get into big trouble if you have done it, right? The father, even though the child was taken into state care for six weeks, goes back to Norway and then when he receives a notice the mother was in India, voluntarily follows as well. I mean, this is not a suspicious behaviour of parents.

Sagarika Ghose: Shireen, respond to what Suranya is saying. You know, parenting norms sometimes are culture specific; disciplining a child sometimes is culture specific. The occasional slap or occasional hit is not unknown in Indian family. If the parents were wilfully burning the child and aware that this was a crime will they go back to Norway?

Shireen Vakil Miller: I don't think this is about cultural norms, I think, as the person just before me said that it is not that in India it is acceptable. In fact it may not come to light, it may not be acted on but burning and beating a child is an offence even in India under the juvenile act, you can be penalised. The thing is that it hardly comes out to light, especially when it comes to home or with parents, and very little action is taken. Now I don't know the ins and outs of this case so I don't want to comment on it. But the fact is here (India) you can get away with it, which you shouldn't, we do have laws that may not be enforced but in Norway it is very clear that action will be taken.

Sagarika Ghose: Those are the laws. They have to abide by the laws. Let me just bring in actor and politician Khushboo because this case is generating a huge amount of debate. She spoke to us, saying that Indian parents need to understand that parenting norms prevalent in the country where they live should be followed.

Khushboo: I think in India we feel that we take a little more extra effort in brining up the child in a perfect manner, so I don't know how far these guidelines and values are going to comfort the Indian parents or how far it is going to enrage the Indian parents. But for me I would say that I don't need to follow the guidelines. I know how to bring my child but the parents, yes they do need to understand that there are guidelines and values which is there maybe not in India but abroad which they follow very strictly and if you decide to live abroad then you have to be Roman in Rome you don't have a choice.

Sagarika Ghose: When in Rome do as the Romans do. Let us bring you some twitter reactions as well because we want this show to be interactive. We want you to tweet and give us your reaction on this issue. Akshay Nijagal is writing, "Indian parents residing abroad ought to educate themselves about local laws. They can't force the government to help." Sonali Dalal is saying, "How can a state dictate parent child relationship, particularly of a culture they don't understand?"

Manali Bhandare, from your point of views as a child rights lawyer, is it basically the law that is most important. Issue here is not about the culture, it is not about the sensibility, it is not about the family values. The fact is that the law in Norway says that you hit your child, you go to jail. And that is the law that Indian parents living in Norway need to be aware of. And perhaps that is the law we should have in India. Or do you feel that it is out of sink with our norms ad how we bring up our children.

Manali Singhal Bhandare: No I think, the law is sacrosanct in any country and I think these parents should have seen... because there was an example very recently for them, to really mend their ways. Assuming if what the allegations are true, I think, this sounds horrendous to burn your child or beat your child. It is something which is not acceptable anywhere.

Sagarika Ghose: But Manali as Suranya is saying that we are not aware whether those burns were inflected by the parents...

Manali Singhal Bhandare: Yes, I would like to give the benefit of doubt to the parents. And I would hope that the Norwegian authorities will do a proper investigation in the matter. But having said this, your question to me was, do you think that the norms are sacrosanct. I think yes. For the simple reason that the people must understand that if they are in a country, for example, Singapore, people who live there or anybody who even goes as a tourist knows that if he spits on the street he may be fined. And people don't do that. So if you are going to a country with a work permit and you are living in a country... I don't think this is something which should be allowed or accepted in India.

Sagarika Ghose: So the law is sacrosanct. And in this case Suranya Aiyar you wee making a point that the burns injuries need not to have been inflected by the parents, it could have been old injuries. And hitting with a belt may not be considered by the parents as a criminal offence. Do you believe from the part of the Norwegian authorities there is a tendency to believe the worst of Indian parents? That the Indian parent is abusive, that the Indian parent is in fact doing the wrong thing. In fact for Indian parents these are small incidents being blown out of proportions.

Suranya Aiyar: Yes, definitely for what I am hearing. There is a perception, it is not just about India, generally in the developing world and third world countries parents are very harsh and very easily use physical interference with the child as a means of communicating whatever they want to. And what I find very interesting and troublesome about this is the way in which words like beating and violent discipline are being used. You know, I have pointed out this earlier, for instance in a UNICEF study in 2010 which was done only in middle income countries. The fact that they excluded high income countries displays to me as inherent bias. The defined violent discipline as shouting at a child and calling them names such a lazy. In Scandinavia calling a child lazy is a crime under which this couple has been tried. Any punishment that causes physical discomfort is considered violent discipline. You cant say that you have to abide by the laws. But could Manali Singhal Bhandare and Shireen Vakil Miller have imagined that calling your child lazy could be a crime. I mean, there is something very wonky going on in which parenting is being looked at. While they say calling a child lazy is violent, interestingly they don't include western practises like sleep training, where a child as young as three-week-old is left crying so that the infant can learn to sleep alone.

Sagarika Ghose: So it is coming down to definitions what we understand as violent the west doesn't not understand as violent.

Suranya Aiyar: What Indians parents might consider really harsh and cruel, giving a baby what it wants which is a lot of affection and love. And forcing it to fit an adult schedule that is not called violence or abuse, but things like slapping your kid... I mean, what do you mean by beating...

Sagarika Ghose: But Suranya the point that the Norwegian authorities is making is that they have the right to secure a child in the way they feel fit. And if you are living in Norway then you have to submit to Norwegian methods of parenting your child. That is what they said that we are looking at the wellbeing of the child. Let's listen to Dr Kersi Chavda, he is a Psychiatrist at the Hinduja Hospital, let's listen to him.

"Sometimes parents come and tell me things like we were brought up like this, I was beaten by my dad and see what happened, nothing happened to me. Well maybe it was a method that was used in the past but today we are aware of the fact and research has shown that physical punishment using threats and things like that really play no role in good parenting techniques."

Physical violence plays no role in good parenting techniques. So if you believe that well it's ok in India to slap our kids, well that is not the modern parenting, says the doctor.

Durden1o1 says, "Problem is with Norway. Nanny government there thinks it is their business to take care of every child in their country."

Mahadev Desai sats, "Are parents from west aware of our culture? Need to come out of mental slavery."

Let us put that to Shireen Vakil Miller, mental slavery, our culture our norms. Now Suranya is saying that there many be lot issues with the way West bring up its kids, which are to us violent and cruel.

Shireen Vakil Miller: I'm actually amazed, what are we saying that it is fine to beat and burn children. I hope that we don't think that it is ok to beat and burn our children.

Sagarika Ghose: No Shireen you have made that point I want to push you to racial and cultural stereotype, that is there a racial and cultural stereotype that Indians are held in the west.

Shireen Vakil Miller: No, absolutely not, in Norway any child who has a Norwegian mother or father will be subjected to same arrest, punishment etc. Obviously they might have been more aware, but in any country in the world beating or burning a child is not appropriate and will cause damage, and should not be allowed. Now let me tell you in a child abuse study which was conducted by our own ministry of women and child along with UNICEF and a local organisation in 2007, was found that 60 per cent of children reported physical abuse. About 50 per cent reported emotional abuse. But the truth you probably see as a reporter, you know, week after week stories come out, like there was a girl in Rajasthan in a school which suffered corporal punishment for not covering her books and finally died.

Sagarika Ghose: The rising violence against children in India is also a reality. In fact I do have some shocking statistics from NCPCR - 1,059 complaints related to sexual and physical abuse of children received during 2007-11. Suranya, go ahead you wanted to come in there.

Suranya Aiyar: Yeah, you know, all this sanctimonious talk about... firstly burning and beating are two separate things. And I'm willing to stand and say on national television that you can't through parents in jail because they have slapped their kid. You can't take one incident and bomb a family for it. I think, when you are dealing with child welfare, you have to take in account the paradox that very young children adore their parents regardless whether they are harsh parents or they have been slapped for couple of times. And secondly this idea that the parent is just a parent and not a person, parents can get angry, they can shout. You know I find this very scary as a woman because since mothers are the primary care givers, even in the west, so mother keeps getting blamed for expressing her personality to her child. You know, they want us to become these plastic dolls who never have a response to her child. Ok, we can have a debate on whether slapping a child is an effective way of communicating and that is a perfectly reasonable discussion to have. But criminalising this is a very dangerous thing. And this awful study that Save The Children have done with UNICEF, let me tell you the result of that...

Sagarika Ghose: That is a very good point. The tweets are coming thick and fast. One lady says, "In fact India should have the same laws as Norway because we need to have the same tough laws when it comes to parenting." Let's bring you our next speak out, Manosh Sengupta, he is a child rights activist from Bangalore, has suggested a solution for the problem. Let's listen into him. "I do not endorse the way the parents have tried to correct the child but that's my perception or my method as against their method, so who is right and who is wrong. My submission would be that if the country or the community feels that it is an incorrect method that they have taken the resolution does not lie in separating the parent from the child and putting the child in foster care and putting the parents in jail. I think the resolution lies in keeping them together under a certain mentoring program and helping them to understand why another method is a better solution or a better way to bring up your child."

That is a very interesting solution there, don't put the parent in jail, he is not necessarily a criminal but simply educated him the ways he can bring his children differently. This relates to what you were saying Suranya.

Suranya Aiyar: Yes, so based on this 2007, the NCPCR has done a survey on corporal punishment in schools. Where they have adopted Save The Children's and UNICEF's extreme idea of this violent discipline, while ignoring sleep training and other western practices. The report says that corporal punishment includes mental harassment like sarcasm and physical punishment includes detention in a room. Now, I mean, this report is absurd. This report is suppose to be for corporal punishment in schools, but it goes on to say that under section 23 of the juvenile justices act parents can also be prosecuted for corporal punishment as defined by them. And two years later after being lobbied by NCPCR and Save The Children, the ministry for women and child development has proposed an amendment of JJI act that would elevate emotional distress caused to a child, including by a parent, to a level of grievous hurt under the IPC which carries a jail term of three years. I would like to ask all these bodies, the ministry for women and child development, NCPCR, and Save The Children, have you ever walked into a slum, have you seen what happens there. Are you going to deprive these people of their children?

Sagarika Ghose: Shireen, do you want to respond to that?

Shireen Vakil Miller: I think, there is no question that the most important thing for the children is to be with their families. And only in extreme circumstances and that too for a very short time, if there is actually a threat to a child, children be separated from with their parents. Especially in India where we do have an advantage of having a joint family system, you can find alternatives because you do not want to separate parents from their child. But parents must be aware of the impact.

Sagarika Ghose: Manali Bhandare, what is coming out here is that Suranya is saying that laws of child bodies are far too (*), they are unrealistic, they are simply interfering in family life, where as Shireen says that parents have to understand the norms. Where do you stand, do you believe there has to be introspection, rethink on the part of child bodies as well as well as parents.

Manali Singhal Bhandare: Yes, I agree with you completely for the simple reason that I feel... I completely agree with Suranya's example that happens in slums or anywhere. You can't control it and you can't put every parent in jail or separate all the children. But remember one think, these parents also have to understand if someone beats their children they will go and make a police complaint.

Sagarika Ghose: I think what you are saying is child is not a child he is a future citizen, future participant in society. So the way he is brought up is actually decide what kind of citizen he will be. But Suranya here making the point that cultural norms and family values can't be sacrificed at the alter political correctness. Thank you very much Suranya Aiyar, Shireen Vakil Miller and Manali Singhal Bhandare.