A video went viral on social networks showing a mother pushing her child to climb the wall of their building to reach a higher balcony, after misplacing the key to their apartment, raised controversy among Egyptians over violence against children.
The almost five-minute video featured the desperate mother forcing her 13-year-old child to climb the wall, and at some point, she pushed and beat him to continue trying while the little child screamed in fear.
The child was almost about to fall and die but the mother eventually pulled him inside. The video was recorded by a neighbour, who said in press statements that he documented the incident after the mother refused to listen to him and stop forcing her child to reach the balcony.
The scene had the people split into two camps. The first strongly condemned the mother’s behaviour no matter her cause. The other harshly defended her due to her low economic conditions.
In a televised interview, the mother said that she did not “hurt her child,” noting that she was holding him well to prevent him from falling. “I regret what I did to my son. I would never hurt my children.” Meanwhile, the mother pointed out that she did so because she did not have the money needed to bring a carpenter to unlock the door.
Violence against children
Many Egyptian children are subjected to physical and emotional violence at the hands of their parents and teachers, the people who are supposed to protect them, according to the United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund, Egypt (UNICEF) and the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood (NCCM). This violence is too often condoned by the adult perpetrators and even by the children themselves, the two bodies stated.
Deep in the Egyptian culture, physical punishment is deeply rooted as a way to instil discipline and to teach children appropriate behaviour, and often time to dominate them. It is not surprising that a scene of a parent beating their children in the street would not attract the attention of passers-by, as it has become a normal act.
According to a 2015 study by the UNICEF and the NCCM, “around two-thirds of the children based in Cairo, Alexandria, and Assiut were victims of physical violence, and 78% were victims of emotional violence.”
The children interviewed in the study, aged 13-17, reported “that they were left feeling sad, miserable, weak, irritated, offended, or embarrassed after experiencing physical violence.”
Meanwhile, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated that child maltreatment included “all types of physical and emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect, negligence, and commercial or other exploitation.”
“International studies reveal that a quarter of all adults report having been physically abused as children and 1 in 5 women, and 1 in 13 men, report having been sexually abused as children,” the WHO continued.
Most importantly, the WHO added that every year, “there are an estimated 41,000 homicide deaths in children under 15 years of age.” “This number underestimates the true extent of the problem, as a significant proportion of deaths due to child maltreatment are incorrectly attributed to falls, burns, drowning, and other causes,” the WHO added.
“Successive generations used to be subjected to physical violence during their childhoods in their homes and schools. This is how we all have been raised up,” Said Sadek, a sociology professor at the AUC, told Daily News Egypt.
Sadek maintained that only recently, teachers were banned from beating students, however, before that, physical punishment was allowed.
Furthermore, Sadek clarified that most parents are beating their children to instil discipline. “This is the only way they know to raise children, or they believe that.”
On the other hand, Sadek pointed out that Egyptian society has a masculinity problem which is one of the reasons of violence against children. “Parents beat their sons to make them become real men. Overall, people accept physical violence not just against children but also against women, and these are all forms of domination.”
Sadek indicated that “physical punishment is reportedly inspired by religion, as it allowed men to hit their women or abandon them in bed.” “Sometimes you have women who justify this violence and incite fathers to physically punish their children,” Sadek noted.
“The circle of violence started from men. The father oppressed his wife. The wife oppressed children. Children oppressed younger children and it never ends,” Sadek said, adding, “the culture itself justified physical violence and views beating children as a form of discipline. They think: this how I discipline you. This how you will become a real man.”
Sadek noted that the issue is escalating because children are not legally protected, even if there are some laws that prevent violence against children.
In order to eliminate violence against children, Sadek emphasised that there is an urgent need for media intervention to educate and change the culture of beating inside Egyptian houses and schools, as well as providing parents with instructions which assert that beating is not the right way to raise children. However, he noted, such change would talk a long time to observe social changes regarding this issue.
“Of course there are different ways to raise children rather than beating them such as depriving them of things they love or going out with friends on weekends,” Sadek noted.
Regarding the balcony mother, Sadek commented, “this woman is from a low-class family with low income, so the money is very tight. Therefore, the violence is very common amid those families.”
Heba Essawy, a psychiatry professor at Ain Shams University, said the main problem is that parents are dealing with their kids as ‘property,’ and they think that they have the absolute right to do whatever they want to them.
“In my opinion, the balcony mother decided to ‘use’ and ‘abuse’ her child to solve her problem, instead of bringing a carpenter and paying a sum of money. It is a very selfish act,” Essawy told DNE.
However, Essawy disagreed that low economic conditions could justify the mother’s actions. “The concept of ‘our children are mine,’ is very rooted in Egyptian culture, as if they are property. And losing the key is not the child’s problem or responsibility.”
Essawy maintained, “parents often control the choices of their children, what they want to study, what they wear, the sport they desire to practice and so on.”
With such actions, Essawy noted that parents tend to eliminate children’s willpower, creating a weak and submissive character that follows their instructions.
Moreover, Essawy highlighted the physiological impact of such action on the balcony child, who, she said, is anticipated to suffer from agoraphobia and other psychological disorders over what he has been through.
Essawy also pointed out that the circle of domestic violence has no end, as parents who were subjected to physical violence in their childhood, are expected to follow the same approach with their children.
“Additionally, many wives do not enjoy stable or happy lives and were beaten by their husbands. Therefore, they tend to beat their children out of their stress and frustration. In fact, beating children is a very inhumane act and must be stopped,” Essawy concluded.