Children use role-play to deal with complicated situations

Maneka Sanjay Gandhi

Children use role-play to deal with complicated situations in order to understand them better. Young children act out real or imagined situations, not just as themselves, but also as other people or characters such as friends, family members, characters in story books or superheroes – they are experimenting with alternative viewpoints which help them develop emotional and social skills. But whom do we present as heroes? Bull fighters, hunters, wrestlers, warriors. When a matador in a bull ring is glorified as a hero a child will imagine himself/herself as a matador. It is irrelevant to the child that the bull suffers the most terrible agonies in a completely unequal attack: what is relevant is that he sees himself as a hero. Is this child going to be a respectful person to all beings? Michelito Lagravere, a well-known matador, often dubbed as “Justin Bieber of Bullfighting”, killed 6 young bulls when he was 11 years old in 2007. This led to parents putting their 6 year old children into bullfighting schools across Mexico.

Here are two good examples reported in France of the unfortunate consequences of children taking inspiration from Matadors -

Midi-Libre, a daily newspaper published in the South of France, reported that a dog had been used as a target for shooting arrows, then thrown into a riverbed where it died. The local head of the SPA (Societe Protectrices des Animaux – Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) discovered that the culprits in this sordid affair were a group of kids who were trying to imitate a bullfighter.

French media have made mention recently of a game called the jeu de torero, or “bullfighter game”, where adolescents try to dodge a moving train like a bullfighter dodges the bull. It was when five high school students warned that they wanted to take on the TGV, the high-speed Paris-Marseille train last January, that the French railroad company finally confessed that they had a problem.

As if imitation wasn’t bad enough, children are exposed to parental domestic violence as well. Anna Baldry of King’s College, London found that over 50% of children/adolescents that had been exposed to domestic violence, and witnessed animal cruelty, engaged in animal cruelty themselves. Baldry found that witnessing a mother enact animal cruelty resulted in over 90% of boys directly abusing animals. The exposure to witnessing animal violence will always make him believe that this is acceptable behaviour.

A study conducted by Fiona McEwen et al from Kings College, London, and Duke University found that children exposed to domestic violence were significantly more likely to engage in animal cruelty. Approximately 29-32% of children exposed to domestic violence engage in animal cruelty. Researchers also found that approximately 50% of rapists, and over 25% of paedophiles, had childhood histories of harming animals. 

Animal abuse has long been linked with other forms of antisocial behaviour and criminal violence, and has a long lasting effect on children physically, emotionally and psychologically.

In how many ways are children exposed to violence and made to believe that it is acceptable. Games where humans enter the ring and tame the animal with whips and pain, bloodsports like cock and dog fighting where animals are made to fight , when adults in the house abuse pets  to teach submission and even when humans own and eat the flesh of animals to prove their supremacy on the species.

The need felt by humans, especially men to become ‘alphas’ , to be at the top of the power pyramid, makes them believe that it is education when they make children participate in these practices.

Kambala is an annual Buffalo Race held illegally in coastal Karnataka, India. Buffaloes yoked together are whipped to wade through deep water. Many die.  In Maharashtra horses and cows are tied together and made to race, after inserting iron studs into their anuses. Both usually die. Children watch this “farmers festival”. Jallikattu is another spectacle in which a starved, blinded and pain crazed bull is released into a crowd of people, and adolescents attempt to grab the animal and try to stop it. Both animals and young people die. In a variant of Jallikattu, called Pallakivaddu Jallikattu, instead of teenagers, children participate.

The hunting season in Spain involves hunters buying from 10 to 70 galgos, the Spanish “greyhound.” Galgos are forced to hunt hares and, at the end of the hunting season, the dogs who didn’t perform well are killed. About 1,00,000 galgos are hung alive, by their owners, on tree branches. Children watch and laugh at the spectacle, which is called “piano playing” as the dogs desperately try to reach for the ground. 

Dog fighting takes place in Punjab, and the young people who take part, photograph themselves with illegal guns, drugs and the dead bodies of dogs that have lost fights and been killed by their owners. Do you think that these children will make a peaceful world, or will have respect for anyone on it ?
Bullfighting is sickening and cruel as it is. Yet children across the globe are taught to follow in these steps and maintain this horrific tradition in bullfighting schools. Children who engage in animal cruelty are more likely to abuse in the community, at school, and in the family and to be exposed to domestic violence.

In the Vietnam Elephant race in March, elephants are ridden on by children who whip the animal crazily in order to reach the finish line. Locals say the race is a celebration, but Dionne Slagter of the NGO Animals Asia believes that "This is one of the highest levels of animal cruelty." 

Cruelty is not only limited to blood sports or games, it also includes animal slaughter. In India, many of the slaughterhouses I have been to, use children of 4 and 5 years old, of a particular religious denomination, to use their knives to kill large buffaloes and goats. Men stand around laughing while their children stab the victim repeatedly till it dies. Children are taught to use razor blades on the throat while their parents hold the frightened animal. Is it  possible to link this desensitization to a worldwide belief in violence by the same community ? When I asked the slaughterhouse adults why they made their small children kill animals , they replied that if they did not teach them killing at this age , they would refuse to do it when they reached adulthood.

A study done in America, on which were the most violent and unsafe areas in the county, showed that these were the kilometres around slaughterhouses. In India a survey showed that the least liveable city in India is Rampur, the city of slaughterhouses and knives. And who are most of the criminals: young boys in their teens who have grown up killing animals and have now graduated to killing humans.

On August 19th, 2019 the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges (NCJFCJ) in America released a resolution regarding animal cruelty and its link to other forms of violence. This is what it said “ Empirical research demonstrates a direct link between animal cruelty and interpersonal violence, including intimate partner abuse, child abuse, and elder abuse. In homes, where serious animal abuse has occurred, there is an increased probability that some other type of family violence is also happening." 

What could be more abusive than allowing children to believe that baiting and killing animals is a sport? That sport fishing is a relaxing way to pass the day? That posing with dead animals is macho?

Is there a difference between Buzkashi, the game played by children in Afghanistan where they kill sheep and use their heads as footballs, and bullfighting where people watch a bull being speared to death slowly and viciously and clap as each spear is thrust in. Are Spain and France more civilized than Afghanistan? No way. In fact the level of violence in both countries is the same.

When institutionalized cruelty becomes institutionalised entertainment - like bull fighting, cockfighting, dog fighting, dolphin killing as in Faro Islands off Denmark - can our children switch off and become peaceful gentle humans? No, they can’t.

Inside each one of us is an angel who demands peace. Which is why most of these so called sports that involve cruelty need to be accompanied with alcohol, so that we switch off the voice of our angel. Do we want this world to be the same, only worse, for our children. If we could keep our children away from animal abuse it will give a chance to them to live as we should, with respect for all and harmony with all.