The Daily Herald reports today that, on St. Maarten, a 42-year-old father was sentenced by the Court on Wednesday to three months suspended with three years’ probation and sixty hours of community service for mistreating his underage son with his belt. The Prosecutor’s Office considered it proven that the man had mistreated his son by slapping him, punching him and hitting him with his belt between January 1, 2012, and March 19, 2014, and had inflicted pain and injury.
The defendant told the court that the child’s mother, with whom he had been in a relationship for 17 years, used to bring their son to him when he needed to be corrected.
The suspect did not deny he had punished his son, but said he had not beaten him up or any of his siblings. “I spanked them with the belt on their backside,” he confessed. When asked by the judge if he found that a normal way of chastisement, he answered: “Yes, that was how I was spanked by my mom.”
The suspect told the court he had not been aware that this form of corporal punishment was forbidden by law until the police had told him. “I did not know the law forbids it. I would never hit him in his face,” the father of four children told the judge as he seemed overcome by emotion. “I would not hit him or his brother for any bad reason. I tried to correct my child. His mother always brought him to me and now I look like the bad guy because of it.”
The boy had told the police he got his first beating when he was eight years old. His grandmother and an uncle had been witness to the beatings.
The Prosecutor’s Office stated that in correcting his child in this way, the defendant had overstepped the boundaries of the law and of what was considered educationally justified.
For the crime of child abuse, Prosecutor Maarten Noordzij requested four months suspended, with four years’ probation and 120 hours of community service. “The punishment went much further than a correctional slap on the wrist. For years, this child was mistreated with clenched fists and with a belt. The psychological and physical integrity of the child was violated at a vulnerable age. The child was forced to take the belt from the bedroom, knowing he would be beaten with it,” Noordzij said. He said the circle of violence needed to be broken. “Many children are being ill treated in St. Maarten and every parent says they were also spanked in the past in the same manner.”
Attorney-at-law Brenda Brooks stated that her client had not known that he was not entitled to correct his child in this way. As a child, she also had been taught a lesson in similar fashion and added that in case her son deserved a spanking, she would not think twice either. “My client did what he thought he had to do in raising his child, as its mother was not capable of correcting him,” the lawyer said. Distributing a correctional slap was part of St. Maarten culture, she added.
Brooks dismissed the four year probation period, until the boy has reached adulthood, as “nonsense.” The judge agreed with the prosecutor that the father had overstepped a boundary in the way in which he had decided to correct his child. “Brute force was applied. This cannot be tolerated. A child should feel safe with its parents,” the judge said in declaring the suspect guilty as charged.
The judge disagreed with the lawyer that a conviction would give the wrong signal to unruly children and said it was a good signal to other parents that this type of punishment would not be tolerated. Considering the suspect was a first offender and seeing his demeanour during his trial, the judge decided to slash the community service by half.