Price of one-size-fits all moral codes

(Left) Shalwati Nurshal and Azizul Raheem Awalludin.

The recent arrest and detention of a Tourism Malaysia director in Stockholm by Swedish authorities for allegedly hitting their son, got me thinking about the price of one size fits all moral codes.

I had the same question playing in my head when I heard about the criminal prosecution of Hungarian gynaecologist, midwife, and homebirth pioneer Agnes Geréb.

Geréb who was jailed and put under house arrest for performing homebirths, the facto method of delivery until the advent of modern medicine.

While I agree on having clear cut laws in place, to maintain order like traffic laws, I think it’s timely we rethink one-size-fit-all rules. As in some cases like Azizul Raheem and wife as well as Geréb’s, they were practising what they genuinely believe in. However they happened to be in countries that have stringent laws against corporal punishment and homebirthing.

Why I think one-size fits all moral codes don’t work is because, we humans are so diverse. We come from all kinds of backgrounds, have various experiences and subscribe to different belief systems.

What may seems perfect for a certain community may be against that of another. And, with the world growing smaller, more people are moving from one part of the world to another bringing with them their own culture and belief systems which may be in opposition with the new community they live in.

Take for example polygamy, a practice which is acceptable in a lot of Muslim families, is condemned by the Western community. Another example is, in Dubai if a woman was raped, she would be thrown in jail first before her case would even be investigated. And, in Malaysia it is now illegal for non-Muslims to use the word “Allah”.

We also expected the whole world to accept our harsh drug laws and stood by them firmly.

At the same time I also believe that as individuals we should be aware of our own as well as other people’s boundaries. It is easy to look at a moral code and judge it when we do not understand the history and process behind it.

Let’s take how Sweden, the first nation in the world to explicitly ban all forms of corporal punishments of children both at home and in school in 1979, did it.

Corporal punishment was common in Sweden a hundred years ago and and many children experienced severe beatings (Sverne, 1992).

Until the 1960s, nine out of ten preschool children were spanked at home. Gradually more and more parents voluntarily refrained from its use and corporal punishment was prohibited throughout the educational system in 1958.

A landmark case took place in 1975 which initiated change in Swedish Children and Parents Code. A three-year-old girl was badly beaten by her stepfather and was taken to hospital with bruises over her entire body.

The stepfather was acquitted due to lack of child protection rights and a large exhibition on child abuse was held in Stockholm after.

Chapter 6, Section 1 of the Swedish Children and Parents Code says: "Children are entitled to care, security and a good upbringing. Children are to be treated with respect for their person and individuality and may not be subjected to corporal punishment or any other humiliating treatment."

The problem with protecting a child’s rights as pointed out by a psychologist friend of mine is that sometimes the parent’s rights as are being disrespected. “They (parents) are guilty before proven innocent,” she said referring to the Azizul Raheem and wife.

She also disagrees with the idea that the children be separated from their parents which she believed could do more harm than the hitting could have done.

“Imagine too the guilt that the 12-year-old son must have felt for what he had told his teacher had resulted in the parents being detained and now the children are reported to be unhappy.”

The psychologist who had lived in many countries around the world also observed how in some countries where children protection rights work to their advantage, some (children) had taken advantage of the law by making false reports against their own parents.

“Some would go as far as divorcing their parents, or accusing them of serious offences like rape just so they can have the freedom than they coveted.”

I must say that I am inspired by the evolution Sweden as a nation had undergone with regards to child protection. A 2007 study showed that the rate of child abuse in Sweden is 54 per 100,000 as opposed to the USA which is 4,500 per 100,000. That means that the incidence of child abuse in USA is 83 times more than in Sweden. So maybe there is something to be said for no-spanking laws. But I can’t help wondering about the price of one-size fits all moral code.

> The views expressed are entirely the writer's own.

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