Commentaries on the International Day of Peace Declaration

Castries, St. Lucia - Commentaries on Declaration made by six organizations on the occasion of the International Day of Peace,  September, 21, 2009: Universal Peace Federation, The Community Action Programme for Safety, the National Youth Council, the National Commission for UNESCO, RISE (St. Lucia) Inc., and FAITH (Fighting Against increasing Threats to Humanity).

Commentary by Fai Anne Leopold

Article 2 of the Declaration stated as follows:

“Lasting peace is secured not only through the reduction of weapons, but more importantly, by growth in solidarity among the whole human family and a recognition that we are all brothers and sisters who share a common spiritual and moral heritage. We are one family under God. It is this understanding that gives rise to the collective will to put an end to violent conflict.”

The family is the most fundamental unit in the quest for world peace.  In fact, the family is the cornerstone of peace.   It is universal. Regardless of race, ethnicity, nationality or religion we are all members of a family. The home is our sanctuary. Our families teach us to love, share and grow into the persons we are meant to be. The family provides us with the support that we need and teaches us lessons that equip us for interaction with the rest of society. It also poses challenges that give us the strength and resolve to deal with relationship and communication issues outside the home.  The difficulty we face today in maintaining peace through out the world is a direct representation of how far many families are from this idealistic notion of the family.  To sustain peace, the home environment should be non-threatening, where individuals are allowed to express themselves, while being respectful of others.

Healthy, well-adjusted children need to live in homes where their exposure to violence is non-existent.  A peaceful family must not only believe in peace but practice conflict resolution through effective non-violent means at all times.   Children will ultimately emulate and reinforce the values of parents and adults in the home.  It is therefore important that adults are aware that their actions will at all times affect the children in their care since values are not only taught by speaking but through observation and behavior as well.

This will in turn instill in children appropriate methods of interacting with their alternate families at school, at work, in the community, in sports teams and in spiritual families as well. These families will be comprised of different races, religions, beliefs and educational backgrounds just to name a few.  Unconditional acceptance of the beauty of diversity and using this diversity for mutual sharing and learning is fundamental to creating a world of peace.

Peace begins by first healing the war within.  Modern day teacher Thich Nat Hahn says: although we cannot cover the entire world with peace, we can cover our own feet and, one step at a time walk along bringing peace with us. If we try to fix a troubled world while we ourselves are filled with anger and confusion we are of little value.

Efforts to reinvigorate the movement to abolish nuclear arsenals are one of the foremost issues on the international agenda. Tackling this problem without first addressing the underlying issues that led to their creation in the first place is an exercise in futility and in fact can lead to even greater animosity amongst the parties involved.   This is not to say that the impact will not be felt globally.  We all have a stake in maintaining world peace.   We can begin by creating a culture of peace and non-violence in St. Lucia.  Despite our history of slavery, colonialism and indentured labour we have managed very successfully to put our differences aside and forge a unified St. Lucian culture.  However, our most important resource, our people are now under siege from the threat of violence.  We can start by reaching out to the culprits.  Their actions are cries for help, a need for love, a need for recognition and identity.  Instead of further marginalization of these individuals, let us rally together to include them as co-creators of our country’s destiny.  There is no them and us but rather we; we are all in this together and we need to support one another.

The dream of world peace can be made a reality through the universal vision of “One Family Under God,” transcending nationality and creed. The original mission of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad and the founders of other religions can now be realized. The creation of the universal family of God can usher in an age of everlasting peace. The formation of different religions has the same goal but different ways of realizing these goals. All faiths invoke universal principles, values and aspirations that transcend their particular religious and cultural traditions, having the possibility of coming together on common ground.

Mr. Hyun-Jin Moon, leader of the Family Federation for World Peace, captured this ideal perfectly when he said; the vision to create one family under God is not the dream of just one man, one woman, one family or one religion, but the dream of all humanity, and most of all the dream of God. This dream is not impossible, the sooner we realize the way for us all to meet some common ground is through peace, and peace begins at home, the sooner solidarity will begin to extend to the entire human family.

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Commentary by Dr. Stephen King, President of RISE

The fourth article stated:

"Laws alone cannot change the culture of violence, but must be undergirded by substantial educational programs aimed at promoting character education, conflict resolution, and a culture of service and peace. Men and women who are taught to fulfill their moral obligations and responsibilities toward others will respect and live for the greater good and fulfillment of others."

RISE (St.Lucia) is pleased to be part of this declaration of peace. We have a vision of our Saint Lucia as a nation of people living in an environment that promotes success and peace; ensuring that all persons have equal access to education, health care and opportunity; ensuring justice for all and optimal security for every person; respecting and protecting our physical environment to preserve the natural beauty and attributes of our land. We see ourselves as a people imbued with a sense of pride and dignity, cognizant of our history, steeped in our culture.

Peace is a wonderful goal, however as Peter Tosh says there cannot be peace without justice. Justice here refers to the wide concept of social justice.

  • As long as the gap between the haves and the have-nots widens there will not be peace.
  • As long as there is not a sense of equal opportunity there will not be peace
  • As long as discrimination, intolerance and violent conflict continue to manifest there will not be peace.
  • As long as anger and frustration are allowed to continue without resolution; there will not peace.

Our children learn most effectively by active engagement and example. For us to create a society as implied in this fourth article of the peace declaration we need to individually and collectively make the necessary changes.

Our schools need to become places where our children learn moral values; learn tolerance; learn non-violent conflict resolution; learn how to give service to community and nation; learn what it means to be a responsible man or woman and citizen.

Our schools need to embrace and promote the culture of peace, non-violence, and service to one another.

Our schools need to ensure that every child is imbued with a sense of self-esteem and self-confidence. Every child has the potential to be successful; our schools need to ensure that this happens.

Our education system needs to ensure that the person who graduates from the school is a well-adjusted, productive, thinking citizen capable of creating opportunity for him or herself and others

We as NGOs dedicated to peace urge the Government to move quickly to make our schools the vehicles for social justice and peace.

As families we need to understand that our homes must be places where moral values are promoted and where peace reigns. Mothers are especially important. A public health lecturer of mine many years ago, Dr. Maurice Byer, said “the morals of the society are maintained by the women, especially the mothers” and we all know the cliché “the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world”. I make no excuses for the irresponsible fathers, but I urge the mothers to make the special effort to raise us right. Ensure that our boys grow into men. To the fathers I urge my brothers to become men, let us stand up and take our rightful and righteous place. Let us be the models that we want to see. Let us be strong. It is time.

As communities we need to reinforce the principles of justice, peace and virtue. We need to actively build our community as a supportive network, create that social net within the community so that no one is allowed to fall. It does take a village to raise a child, and every child in our community is our responsibility. We cannot turn away and expect better days to come. We have to work to maintain the livelihood of all; we need to work to ensure education for all; we need to work to ensure security for all; we need to work to protect our environment; and we need to work to protect our culture and our identity. We need to work as Barrington Levy says every posse has to work. It will not be easy but we must do it. As Dr. Martin Luther King says “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”  These are the stakes; we are talking about our very survival. Surely that is something we must work for. Tomorrow will be too late, it must start now. We have many sacrifices to make and much pain to endure to make our Saint Lucia a better place; we should have started a long time ago, but today is the next best time to start.

My prayer is as follows “I want us all to age in a golden way becoming more wise, peaceful and tolerant as we journey consciously and joyously. I want us all to love ourselves and each other regardless of the fact that we may momentarily dislike what we just said or did or what someone else just said or did; let us develop our capacity to forgive; let us develop our capacity to be non-judgmental of people even as we judge a behavior, appreciating that behavior does not define the person; let us develop the capacity to be tolerant. May the power be with us all and may we walk in the way, the truth and the light embracing and managing change resulting in a life full of meaningful, thoughtful and conscious decisions”.

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Commentary by Dr. Jacqueline Bird, RISE, Inc.: Zero Tolerance for Violence

How serious are we really about Peace in St. Lucia?

Are we truly horrified about the level of rising violence in our country? And how do we feel about violence against children? Do we really wish to see an end to sexual abuse and other horrors against our children?

Consider these definitions: Violence (2003 WHO World Report on Violence and Health): “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, that results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, mal-development or deprivation”; and Child abuse (1999 WHO Consultation on Child Abuse Prevention): “....all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power”.

I believe Corporal Punishment of children – physical discipline in any form, of any level – fits both these definitions.  How does one distinguish between the physical correction of children and violence? In reality the dividing line between the two is artificial. It is so very easy to pass from one stage to the other. And isn’t all violence excessive? How close do we come daily to abusing our own children and violating their human rights in the name of discipline? How safe from violence and child abuse are our schools?  We voluntarily entrust our children to the care of teachers and education officials for 90% of their waking hours daily. How far do these adults go to respect their rights? Do they truly act in their best interests? Can caning a young boy be ever in his best interest?  It is also a question of principle. If it is not permissible to beat an adult, why should it be to do so to a child? We have here a contradiction in our attitude, behavior and culture. Certain of our laws legitimize child abuse - the Education Act No. 41 of 1999 states that “corporal punishment may be administered where there is no other punishment suitable or effective….” by specific staff delegated authority and within specified guidelines issued in writing by the Chief Education Officer and the Children and Young persons Act of 1972, expressly legitimizes the right of “any parent, teacher or other person having the lawful control or charge of a juvenile to administer reasonable punishment to him.”

What else is wrong with Corporal Punishment (CP)? – after all most of us see it as an ‘age-old, well-proven’ tool in child-rearing and discipline that we all endured and that ‘did us all good’!

1. CP is first and foremost a human rights violation!  Children too are holders of human rights. Hitting people is wrong – and children are people too. Hitting people is known as assault and it is punishable under our Criminal Code. It was wrong of our parents, it is wrong of us, it will be wrong of our children and of theirs, if we allow it to continue into the future. Physically hurting children in the name of discipline breaches their fundamental human rights to respect for human dignity and physical and mental wholeness. The legality of CP in almost every country worldwide - in contrast to other forms of inter-personal violence - challenges the universal right to equal protection under the law. In previous centuries, special defenses existed in law in many countries to justify CP of prisoners, wives, servants, slaves and apprentices. Today in most places this is no longer defended in law. St. Lucia outlawed flogging of prisoners decades ago.. It is paradoxical and an affront to humanity that the smallest and most vulnerable of people should have less protection from assault under the law than adults.

2. UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, to which St. Lucia has been signatory since 1993, – and other regional and international human rights treaties – requires banning of all CP of children, including in the home. The UN CRC requires States (in article 19) to protect children from ‘all forms of physical and mental violence’ while in the care of parents and others, and in June 2006 consolidated its guidance on “The right of the child to protection from CP”: “Addressing the widespread acceptance or tolerance of CP of children and eliminating it, in the family, schools and other settings, is not only an obligation of States parties under the Convention. It is also a key strategy for reducing and preventing all forms of violence in societies” (Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 8, para. 3). The Committee on the Rights of the Child which monitors CRC implementation has consistently stated that legal and social acceptance of physical punishment of children, in the home and in institutions, is not compatible with the CRC and has recommended its banning with education campaigns to encourage positive, non-violent discipline, child-rearing and education. In addition, the CRC’s Optional Protocol on the Sale of Children, Child Prostitution and Child Pornography emphasizes the importance of “a holistic approach”, including “addressing the contributing factors”. The legality and social approval of violent punishment is a contributing factor.

3.  United Nation’s Study on Violence against Children (UNVAC) in 2006 recommended the ban of all violence against children, including CP, and set a target date of 2009. This in-depth international study provided an in-depth global picture of the problem, documented its magnitude, incidence and consequences and recommended effective strategies to prevent and combat all forms of violence against children, outlining steps to be taken at the international level and by States. Led by an independent expert Mr. Paulo Pinheiro in collaboration with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and World Health Organization (WHO), the study used a participatory process including regional, sub-regional and national consultations, expert meetings and field visits, all inclusive of children and young people. The core messages of the UNVAC Study were that:

  • No violence against children is justifiable
  • Children should never receive less protection than adults
  • All violence against children is preventable
  • There should be no more excuses
  • UN Member States must act now with urgency to fulfill their human rights obligations and other commitments to ensure protection of children from all forms of violence
  • While legal obligations lie with States, all sectors of society, all individuals, share the responsibility of condemning and preventing violence against children and responding to its victims

Professor Pinheiro, in his final report to the UN General Assembly said: The Study should mark a turning point – an end to adult justification of violence against children, whether accepted as ‘tradition’ or disguised as ‘discipline’. There can be no compromise in challenging violence against children. Children’s uniqueness – their potential and vulnerability, their dependence on adults – makes it imperative that they have more, not less, protection from violence.”

4. CP is a dangerous practice. Hitting children can cause physical and psychological injury and even death.

5. CP affects children’s mental health - CP has a proven negative impact on a child’s emotional development and has been shown to be associated, in adulthood, with aggression, poor mental health and risky sexual behavior.

6. CP breeds violence – research has shown it a significant factor in the development of violent attitudes and actions, both in childhood and later life.

7.  CP inhibits or prevents positive child development and positive forms of discipline; whereas promoting positive, non-violent forms of discipline empowers parents and reduces family stress.

8. The widespread legality and social approval of CP markedly increases children’s vulnerability to sexual and all other forms of exploitation? How? …

  • the fact that CP – physical beating - of children is lawful, when laws in all countries criminalize even the most minor assaults on adults, reflects and reinforces the low status of our children in our eyes - as less than prisoners, less than human even, as objects and possessions – the very status that allows them to become targets of abuse and economic commodities in the sex trade.
  • The widespread practice of physically hurting children in the name of punishment or “discipline” violates their physical integrity, their wholeness and human dignity, and makes other physical and sexual invasion “easier” and more likely.
  • The legality of violent punishment undermines the rights-based challenge to all violence against children – including sexual abuse and exploitation.
  • The lack of zero tolerance of violence against children, in the law and in social attitudes, impedes the prevention of all forms of violence and exploitation.
  • Children often experience both CP and sexual abuse within the family. A home environment where a certain degree or kind of violence against children is condoned is an environment where boundaries are blurred and children are vulnerable.
  • Some CP is even sexual (e.g. spanking on bare buttocks); some adults derive sexual gratification in the act of physically punishing children and much child pornography depicts scenes of physical punishment of children.
  • CP and the threat of it, is often used to coerce children into sexual relationships within or outside the family and into other forms of sexual exploitation, such as prostitution..
  • CP by parents is often the reason why children run away from home, making them more vulnerable to exploitation on the street.
  • CP is a common means of control over child labourers (including those in the sex trade) and over girls in conflict areas (who often become slave-wives).

Clearly, CP contributes to the conditions which allow sexual abuse and exploitation to flourish in societies. There can be no more potent symbol of the low status of children than its continuing social acceptance and legality. It is the only legitimate form of child abuse in St. Lucia. Prohibiting it would be a huge step towards the recognition of children as equal human beings and rights-holders, putting them on an equal footing with adults when it comes to attacks on their physical integrity. It will provide fundamental protection from all forms of assault, and assert children’s right to total respect for their physical integrity and human dignity. Giving children equal protection to adults from assault under the law - wherever they are and whoever the perpetrator is. …even if a parent or School Principal and in the name of discipline - will end the legal reinforcement of the idea that children deserve less protection from violence than adults – a situation which underpins the issue.  Banning CP will ensure that the legal frameworks put in place to address sexual abuse extend to its contributing factors.  Replacing CP in families with positive parenting, non-physical alternative forms of discipline and non-violent relationships between adults and children will strengthen and protect families, reducing children’s vulnerability to all forms of abuse.

Why all this now? Well…why not now? There are many things we have done wrong in the past. CP is one of the more significant. It is in the context of greater child abuse awareness and in the face of increasing reports of violence within our society, that we are sounding the call for policy makers and indeed all responsible adults in St. Lucia to step-back from their childhood experiences, to challenge the way they were socialized, to step into the modern age of reasoned thinking and join the debate on the research-proven linkages between CP and childhood and societal violence.

Some countries have already banned all forms of CP, including within the family (Germany, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Iceland, Israel, Norway, Netherlands, New Zealand, Venezuela). Many countries have banished corporal punishment from their schools and other institutions, with positive results ( Caribbean-Haiti, Suriname, Jamaica <6yrs). Courts have provided landmark judgments condemning it. The purpose of reform in this area is to change attitudes and to promote positive family relationships – not the prosecution of parents and other offenders. We need to discuss CP of children and its alternatives and to set a timetable for its elimination which will require both legal reform and also public education involving all sectors of the community, especially children, in positive, non-violent discipline and child-rearing. Parents should work towards creating a positive ‘non-violent’ discipline environment at home and offer support to those few brave teachers and education officials who are trying to rectify a difficult situation with their recent UNICEF-supported Child-Friendly School Initiative?  It is time for parents and other responsible adults to step up and join this much overdue debate. It is time to conquer our fear of change. It is time to end Corporal Punishment (CP) of our children.

It’s the International Day of Peace today. What better time? None of us can look children in the eye, much less attempt to lead, teach, heal, mentor or discipline them, if we continue to approve or condone any form of violence against them. We cannot protest violence in our society if we do. Tomorrow starts now! There can be no compromise. Let us begin to end corporal punishment today!


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