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Bernadette J. Saunders

This article focuses upon ‘the textual abuse of childhood in the English-speaking world’ (Saunders and Goddard, 2001). It highlights the significant role that the choice of words used to refer to children, and their experiences, plays in both the continued denial of children’s rights, and the perpetuation of children’s lesser status in relation to adults. The evolution in language apparent in international children’s rights documents is compared and contrasted with language adopted in some media articles, and in both fictional and academic literature, provoking thought about children and their experiences. Attention is particularly drawn to evidence of textual abuse in literature that ostensibly advocates for greater acknowledgement of each child as a person with human rights and an entitlement to dignity and respect. The author calls for a more critical awareness of language as a powerful influence on people’s attitudes and behaviours. It is argued that children occupy an ambivalent place in Western society – at once cherished, nurtured, precious and endearing, and yet ‘always othered’ (Lahman, 2008), and often belittled, subjugated, and subjected to ‘normalised’ violence as punishment for being a child. Children’s advocates ought to not only consciously adopt respectful and empowering written and spoken language in reference to children, they ought also to draw others’ attention to the potentially negative impact of ill-chosen or thoughtlessly adopted language. Fictional and academic literature, that thoughtfully and powerfully adopts language and expresses ideas that promote children’s rights, is recognised for its explicit and/or subliminal positive influence on children, adults and our future society.

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Bernadette J. Saunders

Ending the physical punishment of children remains an enormous challenge. In societies which tolerate even limited physical punishment as discipline or control, it is a response to children that adults may unthinkingly adopt simply because they can. This paper primarily focuses on the language, traditions and law prevailing in English-speaking, common law countries – Australia, Canada, and the United Kingdom – that have ratified the CRC but have not yet fully outlawed physical punishment. New Zealand, the first English-speaking country to ban physical punishment, and the United States which has neither ratified the CRC nor fully outlawed physical punishment, are also discussed. Separately, language, traditional attitudes and practices, and laws impacting children’s lives are considered, with a view to envisioning a status quo where adults and children are accorded equal respect as human beings and any degree of physical violence towards children is regarded as an aberration.

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Bernadette J. Saunders

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Bernadette J. Saunders

Abstract

In most, if not all, English-speaking countries, ambivalence characterises adults’ thoughts about, and interactions with, children. Ostensibly most children are nurtured and protected yet, with the exceptions of New Zealand and Ireland, children may be subjected to “lawful correction”, “reasonable physical punishment”, and “justifiable assault” – all terms used to perpetuate normative violence in children’s lives. Parents charged with assaulting their children may defend the assault as “discipline” which is perceived and justified as a responsibility (or even a right). Counterintuitively, the word “discipline” may underlie and legitimise this archaic tolerance of physical punishment in contexts in which “childism” – that is, prejudices against children that contribute to children’s powerlessness, experience of violence, and low status (Young-Bruehl, 2012) – thrives. This chapter focuses on English language related to both childhood and adults’ perceptions of children, and explores how particular words may powerfully either thwart or progress the attainment of children’s rights to freedom from corporal punishment and other degrading treatment. Some language-related approaches to uplifting children’s status in the English-speaking world, and to progress the long overdue recognition of their human rights are proposed, and some children’s voices are highlighted.

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Michael Freeman and Bernadette J. Saunders

Initially, this paper was delivered as a keynote address at the 17th ispcan International Congress held in Hong Kong in 2008. It addresses the question: Can we conquer child abuse if we don’t first outlaw physical punishment of children? It is argued that children’s low status in society and children’s less than optimal development are inextricably linked to corporal punishment in childhood, as is the physical abuse of children that all too frequently begins as disciplinary violence, often euphemistically described as “smacking”, but tragically escalates, resulting in injuries and even death. Attention is drawn to increasing evidence from research around the world that reveals the futility and avoidable negative consequences of physical chastisement, and the paper ends on an optimistic note foreseeing the end of the corporal punishment of children in Asia and elsewhere – a world in which children’s rights are respected and children’s childhoods are freed from the pain and fear of disciplinary violence.