The two recent cases in which children lost their lives at the hands of their stepmothers broke the hearts of many people. These cases should serve to bolster our efforts to protect children from domestic violence and other dangers.
It was truly painful to learn about the details of the two cases as reported by intense media coverage. In both cases, stepmothers, one aged 41 and the other 36, were convicted of beating their stepdaughters, both 8 years old, to death.
The court rulings that handed out jail terms of 15 and 10 years to the women brought immediate criticism from some media and those who were closely following the cases. It is understandable that they were frustrated by the court that convicted the defendants of manslaughter, instead of murder.
But one cannot ask judges to go beyond their judgment based on legal codes, even if they are dealing with an emotional case that has become a big social issue. The problem is that we have been too lenient on such crimes, legally and socially.
The two tragic cases should push the law-enforcement authorities and the judiciary to toughen legal codes and guidelines on rulings in similar cases. The authorities should look at countries that have been strengthening punishment of parents who abuse their children. In some countries, parents who beat their children to death are charged with murder, not manslaughter.
Also important is for our society not to be too generous and negligent regarding domestic violence against children. Government data recorded 6,796 reported cases of child abuse last year, with parents responsible for the violence in 80.3 percent of cases. In 79.6 percent of cases the abuse took place in the victims’ homes.
This shows that corporal punishment and other forms of physical abuse of children by parents should no longer be allowed in the name of discipline. The belief that any form of abuse constitutes a heinous crime must be upheld by parents, neighbors, law-enforcement authorities, schools, children’s welfare agencies and, more importantly, the judiciary.