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Video of Mother Hitting Daughter With Belt Goes Viral in Trinidad & Tobago

Categories: Caribbean, Trinidad & Tobago, Citizen Media, Education, Health, Human Rights, Law, Women & Gender, Youth

A video depicting a mother's idea of ‘discipline’ is spreading like wildfire in Trinidad and Tobago, prompting strong reaction from the blogosphere.

An unidentified mother and her twelve year-old daughter are the subject of the video, which has been posted and reposted on Facebook and other social networking sites. The video shows the mother hitting the child several times with a belt, after the child was alleged to have posted suggestive photographs of herself online. Note: Global Voices has neither linked to nor embedded the original video out of respect for the rights of the child and the laws relating to abuse and domestic violence in Trinidad and Tobago.

In a blog post on the issue [1], Code Red For Gender Justice [2] discussed the concept of old-fashioned West Indian discipline:

I watched my grandmother punch my cousin in the face for breaking eggs on her way back from the shop. My father once ripped a shirt off my teenaged sister. I will not even write what I have seen and heard my neighbour do to his son.

Remembering those occasions in which I experienced or was forced to bear witness to physical and emotional violence is traumatic. Sometimes the very ways in which Caribbean parents seek to demonstrate love, care and guidance are the very ways that will destroy you.

The author continued:

We have to know better so we can do better. We have to unlearn.

But we can’t begin that process of unlearning and re-learning if we are going to get all righteous and pretend like violence is not an everyday, normalised part of life.  The mother who made the video and posted it online knew that her Caribbean viewers would recognise ‘good West Indian discipline’ when they saw it.  She made that video for us, to let us know she is a good mother, a tough mother.  She knows that after what her daughter posted online people would be asking questions about what [kind of mother] raises the…force-ripe 12-year-old that would post risque photos online.

Reaction to the video has ranged from praise for the mother's actions to horror and condemnation:

(“Licks” is a common West Indian term [5] for corporal punishment.)

Other Twitter users were not amused:

My View [13], a blog by Phillip Alexander, suggested that the end justifies the means, but many Twitter users challenged this kind of thinking:

Many took to Facebook to debate the issue. In the discussion group True Trini Discussing Real Issues [15], the comments were varied. Vishnu Ramoutar commented [16]:

Painful for the child both physically and mentally. This can affect her for a very long time. Her mother is disgusting. No shame or care for her daughter. Not in public. No way. Zero tolerance for her.

Tara S. Ramlochan had a different view [17]:

Spare the rod and spoil de Chile…suppose she didn't do that and the girl come home wit big belly…fuss ting allyuh go say is upbringing and statutory rape…

In contrast, Code Red highlighted [1] the comment of one mother:

growing up in a caribbean household…i know that the traditional mindset is that this is no big ting. as a mother who has struggled to find alternative ways to discipline and teach my boys other than the belt, i understand the moms (sic) frustration…but the truth is that this is wrong. its (sic) abusive, humiliating and does more harm than good in the long run. the problem is how to change this mindset that is so ingrained in caribbean culture?

The post [1] also examined how discipline has traditionally been addressed in regional societies:

We have experienced violence and are living with that trauma. We have used violence. We have failed to consider other alternatives. We have justified our use of violence. Violence has become a normal and natural response.

In a follow-up entry [18], the blogger was honest about the feedback she received on her initial post:

One of the key pieces of feedback I received was that I was complicit in the public shaming and violence against the pre-teen girl by sharing the video…and linking to it on the blog. If we wanted to talk about child abuse surely we could do that without exploiting a 12-year-old girl. I agree.

It took me sometime to come to that agreement though. I have witnessed children being beaten daily in school settings. I understood that it was abuse but part of the way that it was normalised in my mind meant that in some ways I had also minimised it. I was wrong.

Another criticism was about shaming readers who expressed disgust at the video:

Someone suggested that by engaging in such shaming I was complicit in normalising violence against children. That I found it difficult to believe that the video literally made some people sick to their stomachs says…that I have experienced violence against children to be a very common feature of everyday life in the Caribbean [and] completely failed to consider that people may witness violence everyday and find it reprehensible, traumatic and stomach-churning.

In another post, Code Red examined [19] the role of new media in the whole equation:

Many people mentioned that a 12-year-old has no right with a facebook account (this violates Facebook’s Terms of Use) and that the mother should have been monitoring her daughter’s internet usage. These harms did not begin with the internet, though they are surely amplified by it.

Changes in technology aside, social media usage has come to mean that you are modern and that you are participating in global culture. Teens don’t want to be left out. Children without regular access to internet or facebook accounts experienced these privations to be a source of embarrassment just as other markers of poverty are. When the kids leave facebook it will be for the next hottest thing, not because parents have managed to push them offline.

We could all do with some media literacy…being a lot more critical about how we engage social media and thinking critically about what it has come to represent.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons to come out of Code Red's online discussion was this realisation [19]:

Sharing the video was a bad judgement call. The video (and articles) reaching so many…was a result of readers liking, commenting, reading and re-sharing. Its popularity was co-constructed. We need to co-construct a media literacy for our times.

The 12-year-old's older sister has since posted a video defending her mother's actions, calling the beating “a last resort” and saying that her motivation was “love”.