What a 31-year-old man thought was discipline of his child resulted in him having a criminal record, after he pleaded guilty, on Monday, to a charge that he assaulted his 7 year-old daughter, occasioning actual bodily harm.
The case at the Kingstown Magistrate’s Court highlighted the line between discipline and abuse, attitudes to corporal punishment, and the ways in which children could suffer as a result of tensions between their estranged parents.
In the interest of the child, iWitness News is not publishing the name of the father, who pleaded guilty to a charge that on Dec. 15, at Kingstown, he assaulted the child, occasioning actual bodily harm.
According to the facts presented by the prosecution, on Saturday, Dec. 15 about 1:30 p.m., the father and his daughter were in Kingstown where he operates a business.
The child was playing with a piece of paper and used a lighter to set it afire.
The father became annoyed and took a piece of stick and began to beat the child on the legs.
The stick eventually broke and the father took another piece of stick and beat the child on the legs.
He then resorted to using his hands to strike the child continually about her body.
The man left the business place, went outside for a short while, returned inside and continued beating the child on her legs.
The court heard that a passer-by spoke to the defendant who cursed the passer-by.
A police officer then came upon the scene at the said time and held on to the defendant and instructed him to desist from beating the child.
The father assured the police officer that he would stop.
The child’s mother later arrived at the business place, saw the child crying and inquired why.
The mother saw swelling and weal marks on the child’s body and reported the matter to the Criminal Investigations Department which brought the charge against the man.
The father disagreed with the facts as presented by the court, but said that he was guilty of the charge brought against him.
He said that after he began beating the child with the stick, he realised that he could have injured her.
He said he used his hands and struck the child eight times.
The father said that when the child’s mother came she did not inquire about why he had hit her but rather, started to curse.
The father said that the mother’s approach could make the child feel that what she had done was right.
“So according to you, you were disciplining her?” Senior Magistrate Rickie Burnett said, adding that those matters are never easy for the court to deal with.
The defendant then told the court that he had not received a copy of the medical injury report.
But Burnett said that based on the documents before him, the form had been served on the defendant.
The magistrate asked prosecutor Corlene Samuel how that could be so.
After consulting with police and her records, Samuel told the court that it appears that the defendant was correct.
The magistrate, as is his wont, asked the lawyers at the bar table, none of whom were involved in the matter, how they thought the case should be resolved.
Michael Wyllie told the court that however the matter is resolved, it must be in the interest of the child.
The lawyer said that the father might have gone overboard, but discipline is important.
Wyllie told the court that his primary consideration would be preserving the relationship between the father and the child.
“Mom and dad might have their difference but having come here, he might have learnt his lesson,” the lawyer said, referring to the accused father.
Grant Connell told the court that Jomo Thomas “wudda get more licks than that and look at Jomo today”.
“I could attest to that,” said Thomas, who is also speaker of the House of Assembly.
Thomas, however, told the court that he does not believe in beating children, as it does not serve any useful purpose.
He said that while he understands what the father intended to do, the psychological evidence shows that beating children sets in motion a train of events, that lead to a lot of the violence exhibited in society today.
Thomas said that his youngest daughter is 25 and he has hit her once.
He said that the child anticipated the lash and tried to avert it, resulting in his striking her in the chest.
Thomas said that for few moments he had felt that the child was about to die.
The lawyer told the court that he received so much licks from his mother that he had, at times, wished that she would die.
He said that he, however, loves his mother immensely now and she sometimes says children did not suffer because of the beating as none of them have embarrassed her.
Thomas, however, said that if he were not beaten so much he might have been “president of the world” instead of “just a lawyer”.
Meanwhile, Samantha Robertson told the court that sometimes a parent talks so much to the child that a little spanking helps.
She, however, said parents must be mindful of how and where this is done, but certainly not with a stick or a belt.
The lawyer said that from the medical report, it seems that the beating inflicted on the child was “excessive”.
And, the mother of the child told the court that after the beating, the child was not walking properly and still has the marks that she suffered as a result.
She said that police officers had to help to lift the child.
She told the court that the child’s father smokes, so she probably saw him using the lighter, hence her setting fire to the paper.
“I don’t want him to have nothing to do with my child,” the woman told the court, saying that the man does not mind the child.
The magistrate told the woman that there is a Family Court to address those matters.
“But, keep it in your head that she (child) belongs to both of you. Whatever I do, when she grows up, she will know she was brought before the court because Daddy did something.”
The mother told the court that she wants the man to start to mind the child “and not come close to her”.
The magistrate again urged her to seek pursue that matter before the Family Court.
And, the father told the court that he cannot mind the child “up to bars” but is putting things in place so that he can do better in the long run.
He said he started life on his own when he was put out on the street at age 22.
“She need to understand that,” he said of his former girlfriend, adding that he also has 7-month-old child.
In her submission, the prosecutor told the court that the defendant went overboard when he beat the child.
And, when the mother was asked if she wanted compensation for what the father did to their child, she told the court she does not want the man’s money.
She said that if the court chooses to go that route, the man can buy items at the supermarket for the child.
The magistrate said that he was not going to send the man to prison for this offence.
Burnett further said he would not fine the man because the money would go to the state.
He said the only remaining option was to impose a bond. The man was bonded for one year in the sum of EC$2,000.
If he should breach the bond, he must pay the court EC$2,000 immediately or go to jail for four months.