By Shahd Alhamdan
JEDDAH — La Tmodaha, or “Do Not Hit,” is an awareness campaign launched this month focusing on reducing physical punishment and abuse of children in the Kingdom.
La Tmodaha, a short version of a local idiom that literally means “do not extend your hand,” is a campaign conducted online and in malls by the National Family Safety Program, in collaboration with other institutions.
The campaign was launched on social media with a video featuring multiple public figures and experts in the field of pediatrics and psychiatry.
Along with the online campaign, a three-day initiative was staged at the Red Sea Mall to help raise awareness against child abuse and corporal punishment, with medical students and residents attending to educate people and enhance their awareness.
La Tmodaha idea and content creator Mohammed Haneef said according to a recent study by the National Family Safety Program in Al-Kharj, around 57 percent of children experienced physical abuse over one year. The study covered major cities around the Kingdom, and it was found that around 50 percent of the children in the Kingdom experienced physical abuse last year.
Haneef said he was inspired by his wife’s story who was abused as a child. “That abuse left lasting marks that affected her and our life,” he said.
He said child abuse was a significant problem globally, not only in the Kingdom, and that Saudi culture and tradition played a part, among other factors.
When asked about how the idea started, Haneef explained that in 2015, he was selected by the US Department of State to participate in the US-Middle East Partnership Initiative Student Leadership Program, a prestigious scholarship for six weeks to help potential leaders develop and have a positive impact in their societies.
He added that the program provided him with the skills and motivation to run a community-based project to positively impact society, and so he ended up developing a project draft about a program to prevent child abuse.
“I continued to work on the project and do my research, and I found about the National Family Program and their great work to help protect children and increase awareness about child abuse. However, I found that a focus on prevention of child abuse, especially physical or corporal punishment, was lacking. Corporal punishment for children is associated with many long-term negative outcomes, such as increased child aggression, a range of mental health problems, slower cognitive development, and low academic achievement. Furthermore, physical punishment is associated with physical abuse. These issues blurred the distinction between such practice and physical abuse,” he said.
Haneef worked closely with the regional director of the National Family Safety Program in the Western region, Dr. Sara Abed, in developing the program, and they picked November as the launch month, as it is the month of child abuse prevention.
Haneef explained that Dr. Abed was an example of a leader who enabled and empowered others. She supported, guided and encouraged him through the project. With Dr. Abed’s help, his project reached Dr. Maha Al-Muneef, the executive director of the National Family Safety Program, who liked the idea and approved the campaign.
“A specific objective is to increase parents’ knowledge about the potential harms of corporal punishment and make them aware of the existence of effective alternatives for correcting behavior by provide parents with educational resources and publish them in print and online, and also to conduct an educational campaign to the public at Red Sea Mall,” he said.
“People were very supportive of our cause. Some of them explained their struggle and they promised to try to change. Others argued a little and we convinced many of them. The team consists of medical students and residents. We used our human emotions and stories and our scientific background to convince the public. We talked to about 200 people a day. We talked until our throats hurt. It was very enjoyable. Around 100 people even filled a detailed survey,” he added.
Haneef mentioned that many parents want to change but they have many stressors and issues that they cannot deal with alone.
“We hope that this effort will result in better family dynamics and a better generation. We hope that the levels of violence and tolerance to violence and extremism decrease in the long run. Also, mental illnesses and behavior problems could decrease. This will make an immeasurable impact on so many levels,” he added.