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The balancing act


SPARE OR SPOIL?: In this time and age, are we really saying that smacking is the only way to raise well-behaved youth?

Norwegians are accustomed to receiving benefits for childcare, unemployment, illness etc. On the plus side, this grants you financial independence from the family even bad times. Because the society, in a sense, provides for you, in the way your family in India would, the connect between rights and obligations is highlighted in the relationship between the individual and the state.

In India, on the other hand, having children, experiencing illness or unemployment, are the very things that can bring you closer to your family, but also create (in some cases) an unwanted dependence. In raising children in India, we are only subject to opinions and pressures from within the family or a close circle of friends. It is unheard of for a government or a local authority to interfere with the sanctity of family life.

It is hardly surprising that Indian expats in Norway can feel uncomfortable with people who, not only are not family, but complete strangers, venturing to offer advice. A certain scepticism is only to be expected also given the reputation of the Child Welfare Services in Norway for "taking" children.

In this latest case, unlike in the Bhattacharya case, I can't really say that the couple has even half a leg to stand on. It is fairly straightforward. The key difference in this case, as opposed to the earlier case, is that while CPS gave them the benefit of the doubt, the law enforcement agencies seized on the maltreatment and enforced the law. It is not some flimsy, whimsical law that says that if you admonish your child and scold him, you'll end up in a Norwegian prison. The law has been in force for decades and it forms a pillar in Norwegian society.

Corporal punishment of children is prohibited in the Act of 8 April 1981 No. 7 relating to children and parents, section 30: "The child must not be subjected to violence or in any other way be treated so as to harm or endanger his or her mental or physical health". Violation is punishable under penal law.

I can't imagine there are many countries where branding and belting a child with pre-existing behavioural issues would be construed as anything other than abuse. Can a highly skilled global Indian citizen in 2012 plead ignorance of the laws of the country he migrates to? The world is not without options. No one can force you to move to a land where the belief systems run contrary to yours. Your "good intent" in beating your child is irrelevant when your action is counter to law and morality in your adopted country.

It is very telling that we are speaking more of the Norwegian over-reaction to the issue than the Indian under-reaction. The kind of "disciplinary measures" used by the Vallabhanenis represent an excessive use of force. In 2012, do we really want to go on record to say that we can't think of a better way to raise honourable, honest, polite and productive young people?

I can never label someone who spanks a child as a child abuser. A lot of parents who do so have the whole "spare the rod and spoil the child" firmly imprinted in their brain and it is their desperation and helplessness that drive them to it.

The discussion becomes entirely binary and onedimensional though if we talk about parents who spank as "evil" and parents who don't as "good". Parenting can't be judged on one parameter. If that is the case, I know plenty of parents who have smacked their kids during their upbringing but actively love those children to bits, who rush to their side as soon as they are needed, and who will move halfway across the world to look after their child because they are struggling on their own. This goes for a vast majority of Indian parents I know. Love is an intense, co-dependent, often complicated package deal.

That said, I have plenty of moments when I can be irked by Norwegian parenting smugness. There are so many ways to mess up even without smacking. Pay minimum attention to a child, don't teach them boundaries, respect, politeness and basic civic sense. Endow them with a sense of material entitlement, a sense that the world owes them rather than vice-versa. There are enough insufferable youngsters that I itch to correct, and some manners and courtesy would not have been amiss in their upbringing. Sure your parents didn't hit you, I want to say, but they sure did not make an effort to raise you well either.

Norway, like most Western countries, has huge challenges ahead and the working of the CPS is simply one of many. Norway is adjusting slowly and painfully to a multicultural future that has already come to stay. Like most Western European economies, Norway is also going to find itself dependent on immigration, particularly the immigration of skilled labourers and care skilled care workers who will form a sizeable chunk of the future Norwegian workforce and who will care for its aging population. Given this reality, a new Norwegian Way will have to paved. There will have to be realisation that there will no longer be one Norwegian national stereotype, but entirely new ways of being Norwegian.

The writer is a Norway-based communications consultant who specialises in intercultural communication.

Reader's opinion (1)

Rivka Dec 13th, 2012 at 20:51 PM

Don't go to Norway. It's that simple.

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