Does shouting at a child constitute abuse?

As law students, we read about cases after all has been said and done. Working in the Law Clinic at the University of Kent I am now part of the process that comes first, and am following a case from start to finish.

It is truly captivating. I am helping a client, an arts therapist, whose professional body the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) is investigating whether she failed the council’s proficiency standards in not referring a child to the relevant person, despite being told by a volunteer counsellor that this child had disclosed he had been sworn and shouted at by his parent.

If the council find against our client she can be struck off the Register of Arts Therapists, effectively making it impossible for her to continue her work. A hearing date is coming up, and the HCPC is being represented by a prominent City firm of solicitors.

My client believed that a father shouting at his son was not, in the circumstances, a child protection matter, nor that shouting in itself should be held to constitute abuse.

I am sure many, if not all of us, have been shouted at by our parents. Does this mean we have all been emotionally abused?

Children need to be protected, but such protection may interfere with appropriate discipline. 

The World Health Organisation states: ‘Child abuse’ or ‘maltreatment’ constitutes all forms of physical and/or emotional ill-treatment, sexual abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or commercial or other exploitation, resulting in actual or potential harm to the child’s health, survival, development or dignity in the context of a relationship of responsibility, trust or power’.

I am not trying to diminish the importance of child protection, nor supporting a right of parents to smack their children.

However, I am concerned about the effect that very broad interpretations of ‘child abuse’ can have on the choices parents make in disciplining their children. Parents may well be persuaded by such definitions to choose less harsh behaviour in their attempts to correct the wrongdoings of their children. 

In my opinion, a lack of discipline contributes to the real violence prevalent in our society today. Shouting at children should not be seen too readily as violence of this sort.

We should ask ourselves instead: ‘Are we partly responsible for troubled youth who have turned to a life of crime? Is this as a result of parents who held back from punishing (reasonably) their children for their unacceptable behaviour?’

Respect for authority starts with respecting our parents. They are our first teachers, and children should recognise the importance of being disciplined.

Tishana Abdool is a third-year law student at the University of Kent