Last September, theNew York Times published an article that asked a question that will get the attention of any parent: Should you intervene when a parent harshly disciplines a child?
The article describes how a woman at a supermarket confronted a father when she saw his 5-year-old girl walking extremely close to the cart he was pushing. “Her head was leaning at an odd angle as the man dragged her alongside the cart by her hair.” The girl was crying. “Please stop! I won’t do it again.” The woman spoke to the father three times, trying to get him to stop. The police was eventually called.
Pinoy parents react I shared the story on my Facebook page, and I posed the same question, wondering how Filipinos, known to be non-confrontational in person, would react. A lively discussion on my feed ensued with most of the respondents claiming they would intervene. The fact that they witnessed the event in a public place, they say, gave them the right to do so. Here were some comments that represented those who were for intervention.
“If the discipline is harsh or even abusive, I would step in definitely. I'd probably say that this is not the right place to discipline the kid in public as they are humiliating the kid. I would talk to them about why the kid might be acting up to see if they can see reason and stop. If they say it's none of my business and continue to harass the kid, I would call the authorities.”--Cecile Yoshikami, parent of Sammy and Ryan, California, USA
“The child may have done something wrong, but there is no excuse for abusive language in private or in public. If they say it's none of your business, then my response would be that he/she made it anyone's business because it was done in public.”--Marie Balitbit, parent of Maxine, Canada
“I will intervene, politely and say what's on my mind, politely. I have the right because I am present and besides, the child cannot defend himself...if the situation gets worse, call the police. It's really bad if you let it pass. INTERVENE.”--Chris Sebastian Escodero VI, parent of 5, grandparent of 1, Bacolod
“I did that [intervened] before at the mall. I told the mother in a calm voice that she shouldn't do that to her daughter (who was probably 1 or 2 years old only). She was shouting and spanking the child (I don't remember anymore which part of the body). I asked the guard to call the mall security if she continues to hurt her child.”--Atty. Mabel Mamba, parent of 2, Manila
“Watching abuse without intervening makes one an enabler of the abuse. That holds true in many contexts of abuse -- parenting, people who bully others by spreading gossip and talking behind their backs.”--Vivian Zalvidea Araullo, parent of Ronica, California, USA
For those who say they wouldn't intervene, the most common reason they provided was parents have various “discipline strategies.” They needed to see the whole picture, know the full story, before they would act. This was true especially for Filipinos who live abroad like the United States and Australia. They said these countries have systems in place to properly report such incidents so there was no need for a confrontation on their part as a bystander.
Almost all, however, said they would not hesitate to step in if they saw physical abuse. Here were some of the most common reactions:
“In Australia, I wouldn't intervene because all parents have different approaches to parenting, and I wouldn't know what the issue was anyway. I wouldn't want anyone to tell me how to discipline my child, too. But if I see the abuse is extreme, I will report it to [Australia’s] Department of Social Services.”--Bambi Manlulo, parent of Bianca, Alex, Sophia and Julia, Australia
“I would probably not intervene...We don't know the history of what pushed this mom or dad to say such harsh words. It can be that this child is really stubborn -- saying this is not [politically] correct but we all know majority of parents have experienced such situation with their kids. For all we know, like some parents after they vent their frustration, they will apologize to their child and calmly explain why they got upset. I would only intervene when I see a parent physically abuse their child.”--Heidi Munoz Entao, California, USA
“Kung sa mall, I would approach a security guard at sasabihin ko ang nagyayari pero I will stand as a witness. Kung sa restaurant, I will tell the manager lalo na kung naaapektuhan ang mga customers. Kung sa park, get more witnesses. Baka may mas malakas ang loob na kumausap sa magulang. Mahirap na baka lumaki pa ang gulo.”--Myrna Calandria Molina, parent of two, California, USA
“I will get help from other people, call the proper authorities. If I see the parent is hurting the child...first thing I will do, get the attention of the parent, by talking in a nice, calm manner.”--Maria Victoria Cunag, parent of two, California, USA
“I think one should intervene if it's really overboard. I actually saw one at a mall and though I wanted to talk to the mom, I couldn't since I was not not sure where the ‘hugot’ was coming from. The mom slowly stopped after she probably saw everyone including the roving guards looking at her plus a piercing look from me.”--Meljune Dionisio, mother of 2, Manila
“I won’t talk to the parent at the risk of being embarrassed myself. Baka masinghalan pa ako at masabihan 'wag ako makialam. Alam mo naman ang Pinoy.”--Christine Dingcong-Rodriguez, parent of two, Pasig
“Dito kasi sa America, hayaan na ang pulis o social worker ang magsabi ko kung tama o mali ang ginagawa ng magulang. Kung diyan naman sa atin mangyayari, puwede din yatang isumbong yan sa pulis o social worker at ang iba naman ay kukunan 'yan ng video para maging katibayan ng kahihiyang (verbal o physical) ginagawa sa bata.. deterrent din kasi ang video shoot sa mga maiinit ang ulo...siyempre sana hindi na lumabas pa ang video at maayos din sana agad ang lahat.”--Jun Nucum, parent of three, California, USA
To intervene or not How does one distinguish discipline from abuse? The Philippines's Department of Justice Child Protection Program defines child abuse as “any act which inflicts physical or psychological injury, cruelty, or the neglect, sexual abuse of, or which exploits, a child,” and cruelty as “any word or action which debases, degrades or demeans the dignity of a child as a human being.”
It is possible that some parents may label their discipline as too strict, but it already approximates the level of cruelty especially if it causes physical or psychological injury to the child. It is considered physical injury if there is serious bodily harm to the child such as lacerations, fractured bones, burns or internal injuries. Psychological injury may come in the form of “severe anxiety, depression, withdrawal or outward aggressive behavior or a combination of said behaviors.”
As a teacher, I personally believe that bystanders have the moral obligation to do something to help the defenseless child. They may approach the parent calmly and call his or her attention to ask if there is a problem. And if they can help, make the parent aware that the child might be scared, humiliated or hurt already, and the situation must stop.
The act of intervening not only spares the child from possible abuse and injury, but it can also show the child that such physical or verbal abuse is wrong and unacceptable. If the child becomes accustomed to being abused either in private, in public or both, and no one ever cares enough to step in to help, he or she may grow up believing it is the norm, and become desensitized to abuse.
Some of the respondents suggested taking pictures or video recording the abuse and share it in social meda to get the attention of the government agencies. While I agree that social media can be helpful in spreading awareness about child abuse, and it can be effective in getting help for the victim, posting and sharing such material should be done responsibly. While you may think it has positive outcomes for the child, it can also easily be a source of exploitation. It can even result in esteem issues and insecurities in the child involved.
My suggestion is if you plan to document the incident via your mobile phone, and you believe it fits the definition of abuse, provide a report and submit the video to the proper authorities (see directory below).
If you suspect child abuse, call: Philippine National Police (PNP) Hotline: 911 Call (+632) 723.0401 to 20
Commission on Human Rights Child Rights Center Call (+632) 927.4033 (Mon-Fri during office hours)
DOJ Task Force on Child Protection Call (+632) 523.8481 to 89 or contact the nearest provincial, city or regional prosecutor
DSWD's Child Health and Intervention and Protective Service (CHIPS) Call (+632) 734.4216
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DSWD NCR Ugnayan Pag-asa Crisis Intervention Center Legarda, Manila Call (+632) 734.8639/ 734.8654/ 734.8626 to 27
NBI-Violence Against Women and Children Desk (VAWCD) Taft Avenue, Manila Call (+632) 523.8231 to 38 / 525.6028
PNP-Women and Children Protection Center (WCPC) Camp Crame, Quezon City Call (+632) 410.3213
National Bureau of Investigation's Anti-Child Abuse, Discrimination, Exploitation Division (ACADED) Call (+632) 525.6028/525.8231 local 403 and 444
ABS-CBN Bantay Bata ABS-CBN Foundation Building Mother Ignacia Ave. Cor. Eugenio Lopez St. Quezon City Call (+632) 415.6307
You can also report child abuse to your local baranggay council for the protection of children.
Annie Garcia-Manlulo earned her master's degree in Psychology from the University of the Philippines. She has been a preschool teacher half her life and ran a preschool for 17 years. She has taught graduate courses on Early Childhood Education at the Ateneo de Manila University and still does consultancy training with various preschools. The wife and mom of one is currently a lecturer at the De La Salle University.