Is it ok to hit a child to discipline him? What more if you are a stranger?

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There have been disagreements about the sentence for a man who slapped a 9-year-old boy in his school. Read on to find out what happened, as well as the implications of this matter.

Imagine this. You’re having dinner and catching up with your kids, asking them how their day was when suddenly, your nine-year-old says, “A man barged into my classroom today and slapped my classmate!” Yes, that’s right, your child tells you that someone hit a child to discipline him. I’m pretty sure that would leave you in horror wouldn’t it?

How did a man hit a child to discipline him? What happened?

If you’re wondering what this is all about, here’s the story. A student had refused to attend school, claiming that a boy in her class liked to ‘disturb’ her. This enraged her father so much, that the 47-year-old man barged into an unsuspecting class of nine-year-olds, who were then having their music lesson, and summoned the boy his daughter had accused.

The boy denied the allegation and maintained his innocence. This further infuriated the man who then had the audacity to brazenly slap the nine-year-old boy’s left cheek. The boy, evidently shell-shocked and traumatised, burst into tears and even wet his pants!

hit a child to discipline him

The boy was so traumatised by the man who ‘hit a child to discipline him’ that he burst into tears and wet his pants!

To add insult to the injury, in the most literal sense here, the man continued hurling accusations at him.

In a desperate attempt to protect the boy, the teacher pulled him behind her and shielded him. But that didn’t stop the man from accusing the boy. He also stopped a student who tried to leave the classroom to seek help.

What he did next is rather ironic.  After slapping the boy, he proceeded to self-righteously ‘lecture’ the entire class that it was wrong to bully people and act like a gangster.

It seems like he had taken it upon himself to hit a child to discipline him for his wrongdoings. 

The Sentence

Well of course this is Singapore, where you can’t possibly escape the long arm of the law. Especially not when 40 pupils and a teacher can testify against you! So he was taken to court, and that unfolded another controversy.

The district judge initially let the man off with a $3500 fine on the basis that the assault was ‘uncharacteristic’, not premeditated and the injury sustained by the boy was slight.

However, the prosecutors, who described the fine as “manifestly inadequate”, lodged an appeal, on the grounds that the judge had been “overly lenient” and had “glossed over” the man’s “violent conduct”.

There are varying views on how the assault is considered non-premeditated and ‘uncharacteristic’ given that the man has had a previous conviction for assault with a weapon.

In his defence

He had hit a child to discipline him it seems. He claims that his lecture to the class was to teach them an important life lesson about bullying and acting like a gangster.

In addition, he claims that he had only ‘tapped’ the boy’s cheek and attributed its turning red to the boy’s sensitive skin. This was in spite of the fact that the finger marks were visible a good seven hours later.

He also contended in court that the school’s security was too relaxed and this entire incident once again, serves as a life lesson to the children. Again, this is in spite of him out rightly lying to the security guard that he was going to see the principal!

hit a child to discipline him

He barged into a classroom, hit a child to discipline him then offered $6.80 in compensation!

The man, who pleaded not to be sent to jail, citing the need to run his stall in the hawker centre, put on a show of remorse. He offered $6.80 to the boy’s father, in compensation and emailed an apology to the school.

His efforts were dismissed as insincere and merely self-serving to get a lighter sentence as he only did so after he had been convicted.

Final verdict

July, 19, 2017 – the man who had ‘hit a child to discipline him’ as he claims, was finally sentenced to two weeks’ jail. The prosecutors had sought a four-week jail term. He was refunded the full $3500 fine that he had initially paid.

For voluntarily causing hurt, the man could have been jailed for up to two years and / or fined up to $5000.

What do people have to say?

People have varying opinions pertaining to this matter but the general consensus, especially amongst parents, is that his conduct is definitely inexcusable.

We spoke to a lawyer and a teacher to find out what they feel about the man who ‘hit a child to discipline him’. Due to the sensitive nature of this topic, all identities will remain anonymous.

A lawyer’s take

While it’s easy for some to condemn the sentence as too light, there is more to it than the public knows. It’s difficult for me to comment until I read the judgment and see the judge’s reasoning.

hit a child to discipline him

It’s difficult to pass a judgment on the judgment.

Having said that, if you’re wondering how the sentencing is done – the judge usually looks at the precedents, and considers the sentences given in similar cases. The prosecutor shows the judge and explains what a normal sentence would be for such a case.

In this case, the prosecutors might have taken into consideration aggravating factors such as the age of the victim to suggest if the sentence should be more or less than the precedents. And if the judgment is reported, the judge will explain why he increased the sentence and disagreed with the lower court. 

But usually custodial sentences (judicial sentences requiring an offender to be imprisoned) mean it’s quite severe.  

My personal take is, how can he possibly slap a child until the kid wet himself? It’s so traumatic! And to offer $6.80 for compensation? I can see why the judge would condemn that behaviour.  

But as always, people have differing opinions. Within the court itself, the judge below felt that the fine would suffice.

A teacher’s take

As a teacher, and as a parent, I am nothing short of appalled by this man’s deplorable behaviour. As an educational institution, we do not condone behaviour that displays even a hint of violence. This man’s argument is untenable whichever way you look at it!

I believe that this case is not as simple as deciding the harshness of the man’s sentence. I think there are some important implications that we must consider.

First and foremost, our students’ safety is our utmost priority. An educational institution is a safe haven for children. Parents should be able to go to work in peace knowing that if there’s one place that their children are in that they never ever have to worry about, it’s the school. This man has violated that trust that parents place in us.

hit a child to discipline him

A school is supposed to be a safe haven for children. How can someone walk in and hit a child to discipline him?

His actions will now cause parents to question the safety of their children, and who else can enter the premises? If this can happen today, someone else can do the same, and they may be armed. On this note, this case is almost unprecedented. I’ve never heard of such happenings in the 7 years I’ve been teaching.

Children should never fear intruders in their school. I mean yes, with the whole SG secure thing going on, we do simulate terrorist attacks and what to do in the event, but generally children don’t imagine someone walking in and putting their safety at threat.

I always tell my son, “don’t worry, there are no bad guys in school”. Well, this man has pretty much played the role of a bad guy and now we can’t tell our children that there are no bad guys in school.

Having said that, I think that this case should also prompt schools to re-examine their Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) when it comes to people entering the premises. Rightfully, someone who wants to speak to the principal should have an appointment, and the security personnel at the guard post should have a list of who they are expecting. At the very least, strangers should be escorted in. So I’m not sure how he managed to beat this and get into the classroom.

Next, how can this ever be classified as not premeditated? I can’t say for sure that his intent to slap the child was premeditated, but his intent to cause a ruckus and distress the children, was definitely not by chance! He had lied to his daughter that he was taking her to speak to the principal, he had lied his way into the school and entered the classroom. You’re telling me this isn’t planned? I’m not buying that.

He ought to be charged with criminal trespassing as well!  

When a student tried to leave the classroom to get help, he didn’t allow the student to. Is that tantamount to taking the entire class hostage? It may sound far fetched that I’m saying this, but what if his outburst had aggravated and he had caused grievous harm? 

And who’s answerable to the distress and trauma that the poor child, the rest of the class, and the teacher went through? What if 30 out of the 40 students develop school refusal syndrome as a result? What about the psychological damage that the children underwent?

hit a child to discipline him

Imagine the distress the poor nine-year-old and his classmates suffered?

What about the parents? If I imagine my child is in school, and someone can walk in and slap him in broad daylight in the presence of everyone, and this causes me anxiety and psychological distress to the point I can’t do my job efficiently, is this self-righteous man who preaches against violence by using violence, answerable?

If the teacher who was present feels too distressed because now she worries that someone might walk in and slap her, and her students, and she ends up too traumatised to teach any longer, can she claim damages? 

On another note, why did he not go through the proper channels? Why did he have to take things into his own hands? We have a school, we have a discipline master, and school leaders, and he never reported the matter or approached anyone. He didn’t allow us to investigate and act on the matter.

Lastly, as teachers and parents, we know the nature of children. Fights, squabbles and bullying are ubiquitous. I’m not saying they are acceptable, but we need to conduct proper investigation and not act rashly simply based on what a child says.

What his daughter said is merely an allegation! He didn’t even give the chance and space to make an objective decision if the allegation was true and if indeed the boy is guilty of bullying. Even if he is, it doesn’t give this man a right to hit a child to discipline him! 

What if his daughter had not even been bullied to begin with? What if she had made it up to avoid going to school in the first place? We have seen many such cases. And in this case, we don’t seem to hear anything about what this boy did to the girl. I’m not insinuating that she is lying, but I’m probing you to think, what if? Like I said, we have come across such cases one too many a time.

Lastly, what message is he sending to his own child by doing this? His daughter, and possibly other students who witnessed the scene, might grow up believing that they can take the law into their own hands. They will receive the message that the school cannot manage the students, and worst of all – that parents and teachers are not a team.

Parents and teachers should always be a team, unless the teacher is being unfair or biased against a child. This leads me to share that it’s sad these days, that parents often boast to their children how they can beat the system and ‘put teachers in their place’. They need to raise their children to respect authority.

hit a child to discipline him

Parents and teachers should always work hand in hand.

In our times, even when the teacher was clearly in the wrong, our parents never questioned them in our presence. We always grew up believing that parents will never go against teachers. And that taught us to respect. Respect is a dying value in the present day generation, sad to say.

In conclusion, I wish to tell this man to think about what he has done. Two wrongs don’t make a right; an eye for an eye and the world goes blind.

References:

Channel News Asia 

The Straits Times 

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Written by

Nasreen Majid