Rosa Martinez

Photo: Byron Motley

HAVANA TIMES, Feb 11 — Over the past end of the year school break that children typically enjoy, I witnessed a sad experience. While playing with my children at a Recreational Park, the one most liked by the hordes of kids in my city of Guantanamo, a too-young mother was beating her daughter, who couldn’t have been more than two years old.

Incredibly, the girl didn’t cry at first, though the situation caught the attention of many passersby.

“Child abuser! You’re the one who deserves a beating,” snapped a man from a passing vehicle. “Don’t hit her, give her something to eat,” said another. “Hey you, you nut case, you should be locked up,” added another woman, without stopping. But the more the mother was offended, the more she kept beating the child.

Comfortingly, I approached the little girl and asked: “What is it?” though she ignored me and continued to cry.

The young mother, apparently calmer, said to me tearfully, “She’s unbearable. That’s why I don’t take her anywhere with me. She wants everything she sees, and if I don’t buy it she has a tantrum, kicking and even hitting me if I’m not strict.”

I responded explaining, “She’s still too young to understand that you don’t have the money to buy whatever she wants. You have to have patience, all kids are like that.

It seemed like I had won her confidence when, as if by magic, she began pouring her heart out to me:

“I’m raising my daughter alone,” she said, “and I don’t get any support from either of my parents or her father. It’s really hard, and to make it worse, she’s a bad-mannered cry baby.”

This is just one of many stories of child abuse I’ve seen lately. It reached the point that I was forced to write about this very real and shameful issue.

Seeking a solution

“My kids get on my last nerve too; but hitting doesn’t teach them anything, it makes things worse. You have to talk with them with lots of love. Children are smarter than you think,” I told her.

If we’re unable to provide options for them to distract themselves, children can become very annoying and cause serious problems for parents with little patience.

For those who don’t understand

This post was written specifically for those parents who don’t understand their children; those who because of having little patience have at one time lost their heads and abused their children, repenting later after it’s too late. For them, I hope these thoughts help.

How many times have you yelled at your child because they’ve started driving you crazy? How often have you looked at them defiantly for the rebelliousness they’ve shown or given them a couple of spankings because, according to you, they don’t understand anything else and you don’t think it’s worth the trouble trying to talk to them?

Just a few weeks ago when I came home very upset and the one who paid the price for that was my youngest daughter, who — being as mischievous as she is — only further complicated my day. She ended up getting spanked for something that any other time would have only created a few laughs.

We parents work tirelessly to try to please our children. We often hold more than one job so they won’t lack food, shoes, clothes or even a pretty toy. But in those efforts we often neglect what’s most important for them: love, care and time spent together with them.

Children need their basic needs met to grow up in a healthy environment, but they need much more of the love and dedication that occasionally we deny them in our desire for a more materially complete life.

Reasons abound

Almost everyone has let their hand slip more than once when disciplining their children. Of course we should never lose control, but that’s not the same as being abusive.

The reality is that in most cases parents are to blame for the behavior of their children; after all, our children are a reflection of our times, their neighborhood, the school and home. They’ll never be different from how we are and how we live.

According to psychologist Mercedes Labañino, child abuse in Cuba is more common than we might imagine, though it doesn’t reach the levels of other countries. “This is a phenomenon that is increasing in the modern world, and Cuba is not without its increasingly frequent manifestations,” she commented.

“Although our country is making tremendous efforts to protect children and their rights, child abuse has become one of the major problems facing our society today. It’s a part of the growing generalized violence that is evident in the different Cubans neighborhoods – marginal or ones not,” she added.

According to several specialists, violence affects children from birth because we live in a culture of violence that affects us from a young age, which is later reflected in adulthood. It’s a treadmill, one with no end in sight.

Abuse is not only physical

Many parents mistakenly believe that abuse occurs only when they strike their children. But there are other forms of abuse that can be quite common among our parenting practices, acts such as blackmail, ridicule, threats, intimidation, control and excessive authority over them – which can be at least as harmful as a slap.

In the case of Cuba, there was an increase in general violence during the 1990’s, and the situation of children was no exception. They too suffered the consequences of the economic decline that resulted from the collapse of the socialist camp.

We’re not able to cite the number of reported cases of violence against children because those statistics aren’t collected in our country, yet experts do indicate a growing number of incidents of abuse by parents and guardians, which helps give a general idea of the dimension of the problem.

Children also suffer from different types of violence at school, although the field of education is increasingly intolerant of such acts. Teachers are also victims of a society full of economic and social dissatisfaction; therefore they come to school upset and at times lash out against children.

According to Maria Esther Nunez, an elementary school teacher here in my city, many teachers at that level of education are used to mistreating their pupils, but when they’re reported they are expelled from school or the education system altogether.

The administration of education in this province is uncompromising in this regard. “Whoever mistreats a child doesn’t deserve to be in front of a classroom,” they hold.

Although the situation of our children is very different from other Latin countries, where prostitution and drug abuse affects children as young as eight, we must continue to struggle, from where we are, for the right of children to live in a world free of violence.


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