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Human Life and Problems

Venerable K. Sri Dhammananda



The modern attitude of working mothers towards their children tend to erode the time honoured filial piety which children are expected to maintain. The replacement of breast feeding by bottle feeding is yet another cause. When mothers breast feed and cuddle babies in their arms, the tender affection between mother and child becomes much greater. A breast feeding mother, through her maternal instinct, often experiences a tremendous satisfaction from knowing she is providing her baby, as nature had intended, with something of her very own which no one else can give. The influence a mother has on the child thus grows and becomes much more pronounced. Under such circumstances, filial piety, family cohesion and obedience are invariably enhanced.

A variety of arguments have been advanced to convince mothers that 'breast is best'. The reasons include both physiological and psychological advantages for the infant and the mother as well. The protein and other ingredients in human milk differ qualitatively from the protein in cow's milk. Breast milk is sterile and is not subject to contamination. Breast fed infants are more resistant to infections and communicable diseases. They are also less susceptible to allergic reactions. It is also cheaper to breast feed an infant than to purchase formula milk for bottle feeding. Breast feeding offers a superior psychological intimacy that results in emotional and cognitive advantages over other feeding methods. Breast-feeding also facilitates the development of mother-infant relationships and bonding.

Breast feeding the new born is more practical and less time-consuming than bottle feeding. There is no need for bottle sterilisers and washing. The milk supply is ready whenever the baby needs it. Babies who are breastfed have been found to cry less in the later months of the first year compared with those who are bottle-fed. Remember, nothing is more rewarding than the love between parent and child. Making time for your baby is definitely worth it.

During the early days following birth, breastfeeding provides the baby with the benefits of colostrum. Colostrum is the Pre-milk substance secreted by the breasts until milk is produced, usually about the second or third postpartum day. Colostrum is rich in all of the baby's essential needs.

Breast milk provides all the nutrition and vitamins the baby needs for at least the first six months after birth. Breast milk contains immunology factors that help prevent a host of diseases and allergies. Except in extreme circumstances, as in the case of mothers who suffer from AIDS and who can transmit the sickness to their babies, there is no real substitute for mothers' milk.

Also, physical contact with the mother evidently adds to the satisfaction of feeding. Authorities in various fields of child development have insisted that the breast is the only satisfactory way of feeding an infant. Breast feeding is recommended as many physicians believe it offers an advantage to the baby, physiologically as well as emotionally, because of the definite advantages that result from the mother's own satisfaction in nursing her baby. The baby needs affectionate handling, plenty of time and a relaxed atmosphere, just as much as the milk itself.

These traditional traits are for the good and well-being of children. It is up to the parents, especially the mother to provide them with love, care and affection as their rightful dues. The mother is responsible for the child being good or wayward. The mother can thus reduce juvenile delinquency!'

Those who lead their lives by going against nature, must face the consequences either physically or mentally'.


Planned parenthood or voluntary parenthood under the Family Planning Programme refers to the regulation of conception within the family and is often referred to as birth control. Planned parenthood refers to the regulation and spacing of offspring by legal and ethical means, depending on the health, economic condition and circumstances of husband and wife.

One must take into consideration the fact that a controlled birth rate is conducive to sane living. Rapidly increasing population is a dangerous trend that creates problems in the wake of people marching towards sufficiency and secure living.

In Asia, where generations of people continue to live in sub-human conditions, it is appropriate to take advantages of Family Planning, in so far as it does not come into conflict with communal problems. A country that is able to support itself enjoys the greatest freedom.

There is no reason for Buddhists to oppose birth control. They are at liberty to use any of the old or modern methods to prevent conception. Those who object to birth control by saying that it is against God's law to practise it, must realise that their concept regarding this issue is not very reasonable. In birth control what is done is to prevent the coming into being of an existence, and hence there is no killing involved.


Although a person has the freedom to plan a family according to his own conviction, abortion is however not justifiable. This action is wrong because it involves the taking away or destroying of a visible or invisible life.

The word abortion evokes images of desperate young women and back-street abortionists. To many, the word also carries an illegal and criminal connotation. In the developed West the issue has been politicised as well.

Abortion is defined as the expulsion of a foetus from the uterus, brought about by accidental means or induction, before it is capable of carrying on its own life. In medical terms, abortion is the termination of pregnancy up to the 28th week of gestation. After this period, the foetus is regarded medically as viable, and any subsequent expulsion of the unborn human being may either be a live birth or a still birth.

In law, when abortion is committed with malicious intent, it becomes a criminal offence and the party causing it may be charged and punished. When an abortion results in the death of the woman, the crime is designated as murder.

The abortion issue has always remained contentious, but for women faced with an unwanted pregnancy, the matter is neither illegal nor political. It is personal and one which has to be dealt with quickly, at whatever cost. Under certain circumstances, such women in desperate situations may feel compelled to resort to abortion. But they should not justify this act of abortion, for somehow or other they will have to face the adverse consequences of committing such a cruel act.

In this country, ending a pregnancy is permitted only when it has been ascertained that the mother's physical or mental health is in danger. The procedure is referred to as therapeutic abortion and it requires the certification of two medical practitioners. Any other request for induced abortions would contravene the law.

Religious principles should never be surrendered for the satisfaction of humankind. Rather they should stand for the welfare of mankind as a whole.


The problem of domestic violence affecting families, particularly in the lower income group, and in certain, cases even in affluent societies, has reached alarming proportions. It has become necessary for the Government to legislate action, resulting in the recent passing of the Domestic Violence Act by Parliament in June 1996.

Evidence shows that a battered wife in many cases still loves her husband despite all the abuses, which she puts down to his alcoholism, gambling, womanising and constant financial problems. This is the reality of the problem of domestic violence faced by a large number of women today. Many a battered wife just endures it because she firmly believes that any retaliation on her part might end in her losing custody of her children, and her right to inherit the matrimonial home and to enjoy any form of financial security.

The public generally holds the view that domestic violence is a matter that does not warrant any outside intervention. For instance, neighbours will quickly come to a woman's aid if they hear her scream that she is being burgled, but when she screams from her husband's constant battery, others are reluctant to intervene as they consider it a personal family matter. Until very recently this view was also held by the police. Under the Domestic Violence Act however, police duties now include escorting the abused spouse home to collect her belongings, if necessary. What abused wives ask for is protection under the law, and not so much that their husbands be punished.

The Act gives protection to the abused spouse without breaking up the family. Under the Act one would be able to get a court order barring the abusive spouse from the matrimonial home, providing maintenance to the abused spouse and children as well as giving her custody of the children. The Act makes domestic violence a punishable offence.


Divorce is a controversial issue among the followers of different religions. Some people believe that marriage is recorded in heaven and therefore human beings have no right to allow divorce. But, if a husband and wife really cannot live together, instead of leading a miserable life and generating more conflict, anger and hatred, they should have the liberty to separate and live apart peacefully.

Separation or divorce is not prohibited in Buddhism though the necessity would scarcely arise if the Buddha's injunctions were strictly followed. Men and women must have the liberty to separate if they really cannot agree with each other. Separation is preferred to suffering a miserable family life for a long period of time.

Some may prefer legal separation which is a kind of divorce except that the marriage exists in name for various reasons.

Factors contributing to divorce vary. When the flame of love suddenly dies or when the vow to 'love, honour and cherish each other for life' seems no longer possible to maintain, divorce appears to be the best solution. Of course, there are other factors too, ranging from extra-marital affairs, in-law problems as well as family differences faced by working mothers related to the pursuit of a career. In this connection, we are reminded of the Buddha's advice that old men should not marry young wives as it can create incompatibility, jealousy and suspicion (Parabhava Sutta).

Under the Law Reform (Marriage and Divorce) Act 1976, and with effect from 1 March 1982, Marriage Tribunals have also been set up throughout Malaysia with functions to resolve and to reconcile couples, other than those of the Muslim faith, who have marital difficulties. (Couples of the Muslim faith are separately governed by Syariah Law and come under the jurisdiction of the Syariah Court).

Marriage Tribunals have been set up in every State, including the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur. The Act makes it mandatory to refer a matrimonial difficulty to the Marriage Tribunal set up under the Act before a divorce petition can be filed.

The Act provides a time frame of six months to see if the couple can reach a settlement. Every Tribunal has to meet the statutory requirement of three or four hearings per case within the six-monthly period. If there are no signs of reconciliation, the Tribunal will issue a certificate to that effect to the petitioner. It is only after the certificate is issued that a petitioner can file a divorce petition in the High Court through a lawyer.

Unfortunately, when parents get divorced, their children become the innocent victims who suffer the worst consequences of that failed marriage. Divorce is a social phenomenon and is something which affects the children psychologically and could make them feel insecure. They have to cope with innumerable problems of acceptance, adjustment and insecurity. Such young children will need constant counselling and constant moral support and comfort to ride out this very traumatic phase in their lives.

Divorced parents are often portrayed as selfish hedonists interested only in their own happiness, and not their children's.

Some may have to live with a stepparent when their parents remarry and will have to make new living arrangements. Divorce is almost like denying child the right to have a fulfilled life with both biological parents under one roof. Because of their disturbed minds, these children could lose concentration and as a result their performance in school could be affected. This will runaway children and juvenile crime.

Very often when the divorce had been unpleasant and having suffered physically at the hands of their angry parents, children grow up being afraid of entering into marriage themselves in later life because they view it as threatening their safety and holding little hope for happiness. They have lost trust in their parents for breaking up the marriage and they also lack trust in the opposite sex.

For some children, the emotional scars may heal with time. But for others, they may remain. Divorce therefore affects not just two people but many other innocent parties as well. There must be powerful reasons before anyone seeks to resort to divorce.

Most children of divorced parents would occasionally cherish and harbour the secret wish that they would get reconciled and family life becomes normal again.

Utmost care must be taken to ensure that separation is done in an atmosphere of goodwill and understanding by adopting reasonable solutions and not by creating more hatred. In fact they should make every effort to part amicably as friends. If a couple has children, they should try to make the divorce less traumatic for them and help them to adjust to the new situation. It is most important to ensure that their future and welfare will be well taken care of. It is inhuman if the couple desert their children and allow them to fend for themselves and lead a miserable life.

When a man for whatever reason institutes divorce proceedings it is the woman who more often than not will be the most hurt in the process. Her cherished dream of a happy married life would be shattered, particularly so if the husband, involved in an extra-marital affair, is seeking release from the marriage vows to be with the 'other woman.' A woman facing impending divorce would often express her frustrated feelings which is typical in such tragic cases: 'I was devastated. For me the world had come to an end and I thought about dying to make him regret for not wanting me.

The dilemma faced by many divorced women in Malaysia is the sad fact that she has only the right to care for her child but has no authority as legal guardian. In connection with this predicament, mothers who have custody of their children are forced to appeal to their ex-husbands to exercise what should be their (the mothers') right in the first place. What if the father does not co-operate by giving his consent or if he cannot be traced? The unfortunate child, who may need a passport to study abroad for example will be left in a quandary.

The only way a mother will ever get to be the legal guardian of her child is when the father dies, is declared insane or has a criminal record. Under the circumstances, lawyers generally advise women to start applying for custody and guardianship as soon as they are separated from their husbands, and not wait until divorce proceedings start, but this is never an easy process.


The Buddha says that if we are to understand anything, we must learn to 'see things as they are'. It is after such analysis of women in relation to men, that He came to the conclusion that there is no impediment in women to enable them to practise religion as men do and attain the highest state in life, which is Arahanthood or Sainthood, the highest level of mental purity. The Buddha had to face strong opposition in giving full freedom to women to practise religion.

At the time of the Buddha, before He emancipated women, the customs and traditions were such that the women were considered as chattel, to be used by men at their pleasure. Manu, the ancient lawgiver of India, had decreed that women were inferior to men. Women's position in society was therefore very low, and it was restricted to the kitchen. They were not even allowed to enter temples and to participate in religious activities in any manner whatsoever.

As we have previously noted under the heading 'Birth Control', discrimination against females begins even before the child is born into this world! The widespread practice of female foeticide prevalent in many parts of the world today testifies to this horrifying fact. Further on, under the heading 'Women's Liberation Movement and its Effect on Family Life', the discrimination against women in affluent societies, particularly those aspiring for top managerial positions in the corporate sector, will be dealt with in detail

In developing and underdeveloped countries however, the situation can only be described as being far worse and more deplorable as the following accounts will reveal.

In India's ritualistic, male dominated society, widowhood is a terrible fate for a woman. There are numerous cases of widows (some still in their 20s) who were cast away from their families and shunned by society after their husband died.

Among superstitious families, a widow often is blamed by her in-laws for her husband's death and is even ostracised. There are few options left for widows. Hindus frown on remarriage for women, although there are no such barriers for men. Until modern times, widows were expected to jump on to the funeral pyre of their husbands according to a tradition known as sati. Although the practice was outlawed by the British several decades ago, the last known case occurred as recently as 1996. Most women in India have little to look forward to when they become widows.

One typical tragic example could be cited of a widow who underwent child marriage which is another custom prevalent in rural India. She laments: 'I was married off when I was only five years old. My husband, whom I never saw, was 13 and he died one month after the wedding. I am now a widow.'

According to the World Bank, 65% of Indian women older than 60 are widows. That figure rises to 80% women older than 70.

The All India Democratic Women's Association reports that in India where a woman's identity is determined by her being an appendage to a male, widowhood has much larger implications than just losing a husband.

The situation is no better even in some other neighbouring countries. For a long time, families regarded daughters as inferior to sons and treated them accordingly. A girl is generally seen as suitable only for household chores. She lives through a series of social practices which generate, breed and reinforce discrimination against her. She becomes an economic burden and a moral liability. Yet, she is expected to raise healthy, hardworking and educated children and be a good mother. Many little boys grow up thinking their sisters are inferior having seen them treated less well than themselves. These beliefs are reinforced by many members of the society, including women themselves.

Perhaps the single biggest issue is the lack of support and the restrictions girls face if they want to do something with their lives beyond the traditional roles assigned to them as domestic help, baby-sitters for younger siblings, cooks and cleaners. In effect, girls are under life-long training to be good wives when they grow up.

As a 16 year old girl from Rawalpindi, points out: 'Our society does not treat girls well. People here do not educate their girls because to them girls are not theirs. Girls are seen as belonging to their future in-laws' families and any investment in their future is futile. They go to their husbands' homes at a young age, usually anywhere from 13. The rest of their lives is spent looking after in-laws, and bearing and bringing up children to prolong and strengthen their husband's family line'.

We need to eradicate this type of thinking and make education compulsory and free so that it does not become an issue' she says. 'Girls should also be able to have jobs, working in places where no one disapproves and preferably with other girls so parents can't object. I have always regretted that I was born a girl. Sometimes when I was not allowed to do something I would go to my room, cry and pray to God to make me a boy'.

The Girl Child Project in such countries is slowly changing all this by developing a core of young girls to act as catalysts in creating local awareness of the problems of girls and the discrimination they face.

The issue of education crops up almost invariably. Many girls have had to fight for their right to education. Some were helped in this fight by their untutored mothers who believed that their own lives would have been better if they had had some schooling.

In many societies a woman's place is in the home; a married woman owes her first allegiance to her duties as wife and mother. There is no such thing as 'women's lib'. Even in some progressive societies women are humiliated. For example in public places, they are required not only to sit apart from the men, but out of their view -- that is, behind them. When women are placed at the back of a room or hall, it acts as a subtle indication that their expected role is 'behind' and not 'together with' that of the men.

Some people believe that women are prone to evil. Therefore, it would be better to get them do more domestic work so that they can forget their natural evil attitude.


In the distant past men went out to hunt for food for the family and the women remained at home to cook and take care of the children and the home. Hence the origin of the popular phrase: 'A woman's place is in the home'.

In the old days, women were quite content being home makers. They did not go out to work or pursue a career. The stereotype of womanhood -- a life that revolves around children and kitchen -- has eroded over the past several decades, as more and more women have pursued careers. Rural society in general however still promotes motherhood and not careerism. Society accepts quite generally the fact that the single woman worker ordinarily supports herself and she contributes largely to the support of aged parents and younger members of the family. Most women seek employment because of economic needs and changing attitudes about personal fulfilment.

However with the call for women's liberation, many women seem to think that the solution is to compete with men outside the home. Such women should consider very carefully whether they want to bear children, or to pursue a career. It is irresponsible for a mother to bring a life into this world and then leave it in the care of others without due consideration for its welfare. You are responsible for what you create.

There has been a notable increase of married women who are employed. Today, they have forged ahead as career women, often playing a dual role of working woman and mother. Most working mothers are torn between the guilt of leaving their children at home with servants and the call of their careers.

With more and more women doing further studies, the number of working mothers is increasing. Over the years, women have made substantial advances in the professions and now occupy important top management positions in government departments and in the private sector. The trend is most pronounced in the urban areas. In the political field women have risen to top ministerial positions, to the extent that they find themselves more in the limelight of public life, whilst their husbands in the background, have to be content and remained in the shadows of their wives.

Women executives climbing the corporate ladder to top management positions however still face subtle form of sex discrimination. The gender gap faced by aspiring women, particularly professionals, is most pronounced at the top of the corporate ladder.

Boardroom decisions usually end up with the remark: 'We are reluctant to groom them for leadership jobs because our investment is lost if they leave to become mothers.'

Gender discrimination at the executive level however is not easy to prove; hence the term 'glass ceiling' has been coined to describe the invisible but rigid barrier that blocks women's path to the upper echelons of corporate power. Although some people categorically deny the existence of such a barrier, women's routes to the top are blocked by this so called 'glass ceiling . Hence to reach the top a woman has to make a choice between career and family. Some conscientious working mothers, with domestic helpers to look after the babies, have come to realise they could never leave their babies at the mercy of strange women; so however much they enjoy their office work they decide to give up their careers. It is indeed sad that some women on the other hand have chosen to pursue their careers at the expense of their families.

A child has a right to be satisfied materially, but more importantly spiritually and psychologically. The provision of material comfort is secondary when compared to the provision of parental love and attention. We know of many people from poor homes who in spite of their meagre income have brought up children well with penty of love.

Conversely, many rich people have provided every material comfort for their children, but being deprived of parental love, these children have grown up to become psychologically and morally handicapped.

Some women may feel that advising them to concentrate on the upbringing of the family is below their dignity or something degrading and reflects the thinking of the old and the conservative. It is true that in the past, women have been treated very badly, but this was due more to ignorance on the part of men rather than to an inherent weakness in women. The Sanskrit word for a housewife is Gruhini which literally means 'leader of the house.' Certainly it does not imply that a woman is inferior. Rather it means a division of responsibility for the male and the female.

Women have been struggling for ages to gain equality with men in the field of education, the professions, politics and other avenues. They are now at par with men to a great extent. The male generally tends to be aggressive by nature and the female more emotional. In the domestic scene, particularly in the East, the male is more dominant as head of the family whilst the female tends to remain as a passive partner. Please remember, 'passive' here does not mean 'weak'. Rather it is a positive quality of'modesty' and 'gentleness'. If man and woman maintain their masculine and feminine qualities inherited from nature and recognise their respective strengths and status, then such an attitude can contribute towards a congenial and mutual understanding between the sexes.

In this connection, Gandhi's remarks are very relevant: 'I believe in the proper education of woman. But I do believe that woman will not make her contribution to the world by mimicking or running a race with man. She can run the race, but she will not rise to the great heights she is capable of by mimicking man'. Here we can look at the wisdom of the ancient Chinese when they created the YIN and YANG symbol. The curved line which divides the dark and light segments show that opposites need not take confrontational stances. When one dominates the other recedes. When one side recedes the other dominates, and so both remain equal. Womem has to be the complement of man.

In certain countries, many husbands hand over their pay packets to their wives who handle domestic affairs. This leaves the man free to concentrate on what he can do best for the family. Since each partner knows clearly what his or her responsibilities are, there is no conflict between them. The atmosphere at home is thus happy and peaceful where their children can grow up well.

Of course, the husband must see to it that his partner is well cared for, that she is consulted on every family decision, that there is enough freedom for her to develop her own personality and that she has her own free time to pursue her personal interests. In this sense, husband and wife are both equally responsible for the welfare of their family. They should not be in competition with each other.

A mother should consider carefully whether she should continue as a working mother with all the attendant pitfalls or to be a housewife giving all her undivided attention, due affection and care to her growing children. Strangely, some modern mothers, particularly in certain countries with military regimes facing a shortage of manpower, are being trained to handle guns or other deadly weapons when they should be cuddling their children and training them to be good or law-abiding citizens.

In certain countries female soldiers often carry arms, though usually for self defence, and they are no longer restricted to the rear echelon. In the air, women now fly combat aircraft and attack helicopters, not just being drivers of military transports, but at home they still display their gentleness and caring natures especially with to children.


Teaching children the facts of sex and sexual development needs to be done with care, sensitivity and in a holistic manner. Coping with changes in sexual development is an issue every child must face, and the challenge is even more critical for children during their early formative years. Educators and parents must therefore regard sexuality as part of human drives and needs that must be correctly channelled.

The necessity for giving correct information about sexual development to children is of paramount importance. Children nowadays are exposed to knowledge about sex through the mass media (often with gory details), books, through the Internet and also from their peers, and if they are not taught to differentiate between what is appropriate and what is not, they might end up exhibiting inappropriate behaviour. No parents will ever want their children to obtain information on sexual development from the gutter.

Parents can impart knowledge of sex to their children but such information needs to be tailored to the child's level of understanding -- in this case, the mental age, which may not correspond to the child's chronological age. Children are very innocent and can easily be victims of sexual abuse in the hands of unscrupulous adults. The child may not even realize that he is being used as an object to gratify the deviant sexual needs of adults.

One important area is the need to inform children as to what constitutes 'appropriate and inappropriate touching'. The importance of giving such awareness to children is stressed on parents. The child needs to know who is allowed to touch him or her and when, and where; what a doctor can touch, situations the child should avoid, and how best to stop inappropriate conduct in the classroom.

Parents themselves need to be aware that inappropriate touching could also happen between relatives. For instance, parents usually tell their children to 'beware of strangers', yet studies have shown that in child sexual abuse cases, the majority of abusers are in fact known to the child, or are members of the child's own family.

As with other children in society, children require open lines of communication with their parents. This would include openness in discussing issues connected with sex. If any untoward physical contact has occurred they should be comfortable in telling their parents about it, instead of being too ashamed or too afraid to reveal details.

Sex education is important because one cannot expect teenagers to follow rules blindly without knowing why they must follow them. One of the subjects they should be educated about is why they should abstain from sex until after marriage.Many people oppose sex education for children because they think that 'once you tell them about it, they will go out and abuse it.' It is significant to note that in Switzerland, sex education is taught in kindergartens and that country has the lowest number of teenage pregnancies in the world. What is vitally important is that children be taught responsible sexual behaviour from the time they are ready for such instruction. A sound sexual education will save the child untold stress from guilt, fear, remorse and retribution in the future.


The most fertile grounds for nurturing crimes are families. In spite of all the measures taken to decrease crime rates, violent crimes are increasing in many families in modern, technologically advanced societies. Most of them learn to become criminals from the way they are being brought up.

In some countries, while adult crime rates have fallen somewhat, crimes committed by youths continue to rise. We learn from the mass media that many children take guns to their schools. Sometimes we hear that very young children even below the age of five, have shot their siblings or parents. Usually crimes among youths are related to drugs and alcohol, which are easily available to them in some homes. Criminals are not born, but made by misguided and inconsiderate families and by the environment in which they live.

It has become a 20th century fashion among many people to live together without getting married. In some cases, children born into such circumstances suffer from neglect. Quite often these children end up under the care and guidance of one parent, usually the mother. The parent who is more irresponsible leaves the children under the care of the other partner. Women, since they often experience discrimination, have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to provide for themselves and their children. The modern global economy is such that women are more disadvantaged than even underprivileged men. As the entire social structure has taken a completely different route from that of the traditional one, support for the family is also almost non-existent in many countries. Women often suffer more as a result and their difficulties are reflected in families they try to raise.

Children brought up by single parents often don't receive enough parental love and care. Psychologically-troubled parents cannot give very sound emotional fulfillment to their children. These children's baby-sitters sometimes are TV sets or other people who have been brought up the same way as those whom they baby sit. Many a time, baby sitters are young girls who need money for their own drugs or alcohol. They do not have any training in taking care of babies. While baby-sitting, they themselves. may be smoking or taking illegal drugs. Under such circumstances, children do not receive enough necessary care, guidance, love and, most important, basic education.

No baby sitter can give the same love and care as mothers do. Children can never relate to baby sitters as they do to their own parents.

When they grow up, such children may start their own careless and misguided way of life. They don't receive proper religious education. Nor do they know how to explore religions on their own. To make things worse for them, TV violence become their role model. Many movie producers and writers are writing books promoting violence primarily so they can make a few quick dollars. Children who grow up without proper guidance lay their hands on these books and try to imitate what they watch on TV and what they read in books.

Many parents are also not very careful about their guns and alcohol. Some parents drink and smoke in front of their children. When they lose their sense of responsibility under the influence of alcohol, their senses are so dulled that they do not remember to put away their bottles, cigarettes and guns in appropriate places or to hide them away from children. They also unmindfully and carelessly keep their loaded guns accessible to children. Children are inadvertently encouraged to satisfy their natural curiosity by using guns, alcohol, drugs and cigarettes.

Some parents, who themselves come from broken families may be without enough education in morality and ethics to restrain their senses and so misbehave in front of their children. Some parents, grandparents, uncles, and brothers even sexually abuse young children. Sexually abused children grow up with unforgiving hatred towards their abusers. Sometimes they themselves can turn to similar crimes when they grow up.

Society often makes matters worse for troubled families and their children. Gun producers are very glad to see more and more people using guns to increase their income. Drug users make greater profits by using small children, mostly from broken families, for distributing and using drugs. Children who make money by selling drugs do everything to encourage their peers to use and deal in drugs. When their parents are not at home it may be even more of a thrill to get hold of some drugs and alcohol from their own parents' unlocked repositories.

Divorce has also become the norm of the day in many technologically advanced societies. The ones who suffer most from divorce are children. In their young and tender years, children need all the love and care possible from both parents. That is the age they need proper guidance and good examples as models to follow. That is the age when the mind absorbs everything quickly like a sponge. When their parents are divorced or separated prior to divorce, children become devastated and bewildered. Parents, who are struggling themselves to handle their emotions and to put their own lives together, cannot guide children in the right direction, nor can they pay all the necessary attention to children for their healthy growth. If totally neglected by parents, children seek solutions to their problems from friends, many of whom themselves come from broken families. None of them can truly help each other.

Even in homes untroubled by divorce, children may not see enough of their parents. Parents are extremely busy these days making money to provide comfortable lives for themselves and their children. Quite often they are not home because they have more than one job, to make more money. Some are not home because they have to make numerous business-related trips out of town. Some parents who may not be travelling are instead overly engaged in their work at the office. Some are such workaholics they cannot spend a minute in their waking life without doing something related to their jobs. Or, from very early in the morning they commute to work and cannot return home until late in the evening, bringing home some more work. They might go to bed very late in the evening and continue to think of their next day's work. They are busy working every waking moment of the day and busy thinking of their next day's work even while sleeping.

Asked why they are so obsessed with work, such parents might say that they have to earn and save to provide for their family. But since they always live in tension, they are always grouchy and grumpy. Grumbling, they wake up in the morning, and grumbling, they go to bed in the evening. Any tiny little thing can irritate them. They don't have any time for themselves or their children. They believe that if they earn more their children's future will be assured. But no matter how much they earn it is not enough. And some parents who have more than they need do not have time for their children because they spend more time with their friends than with their families.

When children come home from school, they often do whatever they like because there is nobody at home to supervise them. In some cases, parents pick up their children from schools on their way home from work and yet don't have time to listen to them. They like children to be seen but not to be heard. Children are afraid to talk to their parents lest they might anger them for speaking up about their problems. Children's problems may continue to grow, when they have no time to discuss them with their parents. Their peers are not in a position to give them meaningful advice.

Some parents look forward to having their children grow up and leave home as soon as possible, so they can be free to do what they wish to do. Sadly, their children may also look forward to growing up quickly to be free from their parents. In extreme cases, some misguided, impatient children even kill their parents to take possession of their property. Children wishing to achieve their independence as quickly as possible become more selfish. We know the problems. There is no close-loving relationship between parents and children. But what are the solutions?

Of course, both parents and children can be independent and still have a good relationship with one another. Relationships between parents and children have been highly valued by the Buddha. To promote these good relationships, the Buddha has advocated numerous measures. If parents fulfil their duties and responsibilities towards children and if children fulfil their responsibility toward parents, more harmonious and peaceful families can result.

People who equate money with happiness are often at the root of violent crimes. Almost all crimes are committed by people who have not been educated in moral and ethical values. If you invest all your interest, all your energy and time in making money or in sensual pleasure at the cost of your children's future, how can you expect your children to learn the distinction between good and evil? Or if you teach your children to hate your neighbor because the neighbor is different from you and your values, how can you expect your children to respect anybody?

Or if you teach your children to hate others who follow a religion different from yours, how can you expect your children not to be violent? Or if you teach your children to hate others for speaking a different language which you don't understand, how can you expect them to reduce crimes in the society? There is a low number of violent crimes in societies where there is a close family link between parents and children, a close relationship between relatives and between families. In societies where there is a free exchange of time, wealth, energy, knowledge, love and care, violent crime diminishes.

Blessed are the parents and children who have a loving relationship between them. Blessed is the home where there is friendship and harmony. Parents should make some sacrifices to give all their love and care to their children. Wise parents should invest their time, energy and money to create a healthy home environment where they can bring up their children happily. To take care of their children, some benevolent parents take turns working outside the home. In some cases, it would be advisable for parents to change their work schedules, if both must work to earn sufficient income to support their families. Sometimes, either the father or the mother may decide to stay home to take care of their children if one of them earns enough income to support the family.

Good parents should realize they are role models for their children. To discipline children, parents must be disciplined themselves. If parents are undisciplined, they cannot expect any discipline from their children. When parents do try to discipline their children, sometimes the children may rebel against them. They might even say they hate their parents. Nevertheless, good parents should not be afraid of children's comments such as these. When children grow up they will realize their parents disciplined them for their own benefit.

Sometimes, children may have an important topic, related to anxious feelings or learning problems or peer-problems, and may wish to discuss them with their parents. Then, parents must listen to them mindfully, patiently and compassionately. During the discussion, if children use abusive language parents should reprimand them immediately then allow them to continue the discussion. If they show emotion, parents should not play a co-dependent role and also become emotional, but listen mindfully, hoping to help them. In other words, when children are angry, parents should listen to them mindfully and patiently without themselves getting angry, so they can be effective in helping children.

Parents and children should have open and friendly discussions regularly. Parents should admit their mistakes and apologize to children. If parents shout, curse or throw their own temper tantrum, they should apologize to children either immediately or later on and explain the reason why they behaved that way. They should determine not to repeat that kind of behaviour in front of children. Children also should be encouraged to admit their mistakes and apologize to parents. Parents should appreciate the good things children do and acknowledge any improvement they have made. Reward and punishment works with everybody.

If there are several children in a family, parents should be equally fair to all of them. In dealing with family problems, parents always should exercise caution to do justice to all of the children. If they should praise one child more than others in front of everybody, their siblings may become jealous of the one that was praised. When parents are full of loving-kindness and compassion, solving any family problem is easy.

Parents should treat children with honour and dignity, as wonderful human beings who are going to take the world's responsibility into their hands one day.

Whenever children do something good, parents should not forget to appreciate and reward them, at least in words. When children do something unethical, immoral and harmful, parents should immediately reprimand them and talk to them directly. Parents should know when to reprimand them in private and when to reprimand them at a family meeting, in front of everybody. Also, neither the father nor mother should criticize each other in front of children. They should have their own private meeting to discuss problems.

Parents should choose the right words, right attitude, right moment and right place to tell the right things to children. In every situation parents should make sure that they really and sincerely love their children. They must assure their children that they honestly love them. If you humiliate children in front of everybody, children may do many wrong things secretly. They will also learn to be hypocritical. Parents must be very honest with children. If parents are dishonest, children lose respect for them. You as parents cannot demand respect if you don't deserve it. You should learn to earn it by your own behavior and attitude towards children. And don't expect to be their teacher all the time. Children, too can be very good teachers to parents.

'One of the best things parents can do to establish and maintain a friendly and loving relationship with children is to spend some time practising loving-kindness and meditation. They should make it a habit to encourage children to join them a few minutes every day practising meditation. In many good Buddhist families, parents and children spend a few minutes reciting some religious verses. They have little home shrines where they gather every day at least for a few minutes.' -- -Ven Dr. Henepola Gunaratana, USA.


Any discussion of juvenile delinquency raises two fundamental questions: (1) Who are the juveniles? and (2) What constitutes delinquency? In answer to the first question, the most common criterion employed is chronological age. The vast majority of the laws dealing with juvenile delinquency throughout the world provide an age limit beyond which special procedures and measures meant for juveniles are inapplicable. The age limit applicable to juveniles in Malaysia will be dealt with later in subsequent paragraphs.

The second question as to what constitutes delinquency is more difficult to answer. The word delinquency is derived from the Latin deliquesce meaning 'neglect', and it may be interpreted in broad terms as neglect on the part of juveniles to conform to the accepted standards of behaviour in a given society. An antisocial act is defined as a criminal offence constituting delinquency when committed by a juvenile.

Some of us have a black sheep in the family or in our midst. What is the cause? Research has disclosed a number of factors which show how a young child may face the danger of falling into crime. The main reasons for crimes are stated to be: (a) criminal history in the child's family; (b) unhappy family back-ground arising from inconsistent behaviour by parents where harsh and erratic discipline is mixed with generosity in the provision of material gifts; (c) large family size; (d) a record of truancy, and (e) failure to do well at school.

A juvenile delinquent probably comes from a bad home environment, has no selfconfidence, no belief in his own identity and no experience of normal satisfaction. The key to the solution will be the family. To what extent are parents responsible for this state of affairs? The young persons who commit petty crimes could have been neglected in childhood. They want possessions and money. But because they do not know how to earn them they steal them. Those who commit violent crimes, in addition to having been neglected, usually are treated cruelly in childhood. They do not feel ashamed about going to prison. They have no sense of letting anybody down and they have no desire for social approval.

Divorced parents often create serious emotional problems for children. They are deprived of family traditions which could have helped them to behave with correctness and decorum.

There is no way to make children do anything once they become truly defiant. Punishment and reward have their limitations. When do we start controlling or motivating our children? Psychologists maintain that it is in the first couple of years of life that the largest part of this process takes place during which period parental love arouses the corresponding love in children.

This period is vital to guide the child as he grows up to be a responsible or an anti-social person. In these modern times many six to seven year old children are no longer the little darlings we admired and caressed, but are often defiant little brats. Parents are largely responsible for such behaviour. We should nurture habits of serious critical thought in our children, teaching them to measure actions against consequences.

At this stage of development of children, the school has an equal responsibility with parents. Some children are afraid to go to school for fear of being bullied or teased or of being too self-conscious of their appearance or worried about doing badly in their school work or have fear of teachers. In the light of such experiences, an attempt to make the lives of children from five to six years more secure is appropriate.

Recent reports on juvenile delinquency released by the Welfare Services Department show a sharp increase in the number of criminal cases (300 per cent since 1962) committed by those below 18. This is indeed saddening, seeing how much effort has gone into programmes and projects to propagate and foster a caring society. Over 4000 juvenile delinquents were arrested in 1995, compared to about a thousand less in the previous year.

Most of the youths caught were those who had difficulties in school. Indiscipline among students has reached an alarming stage. Teenage delinquency has been caused by the lack of attention received at home, the presence of unhealthy elements in 'shady' video game and amusement centres an mixing with bad company. The study had singled out students living in squatter areas and low cost flats as the most vulnerable and problematic.

Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, the Prime Minister of Malaysia, said that if the Government closed down certain centres where people encourage young person to get into some immoral practices, they may do the same thing secretly.

Police have also expressed concern over rising gangsterism and assault cases in schools. Such criminal activities need to be curbed to prevent more pupils from getting involved in serious crimes. Headmasters and teachers should counsel and advise pupils against getting involved in criminal activities. The police should be called in only if the problem is beyond their control.

Hisham Harun writes in The New Straits Times dated March 5, 1997:

'Police statistics reveal that in 1994, the number of arrests for crimes including drug addiction, rape, incest, house-break-ins and car thefts stood at 4,192. Out of this, a total 1,839 males and 23 females were Malay compared to 590 Chinese males and 18 females, and 421 Indian males and 10 females

The following year, the number of Malay offenders in this age group rose to 2,402 while the number of Chinese youths arrested totalled 922; 507 Indian youths were caught. Last year's figures were 2,890 Malays, 770 Chinese (registering a drop) and 574 Indians, with Selangor, Iohor and Kedah posting the highest crime rates among youths in the past three years. Malay youths made up the bulk of offenders in all States.

National Unity and Social Development Ministry statistics seem to support the police figures and show that of the 2,898 juvenile cases involving drug abuse and other social problems, 61 per cent of the offenders were Malays, 17 per cent Chinese and 10 per cent Indians. In addition, Malays make up at least 70 per cent of inmates at the Hendry Gurney School for boys in Malacca'.

Sociologists and welfare officers point the finger at the pressures of modern living, which inevitably lead to a collapse of strong community and family bonds. Who then are the people who need counselling? It would appear that the parents need it as well, not just the juvenile delinquents.

Datuk Adul Kadir bin Jasin, Group editor of The New Straits Times stated in the Sunday Times in Malaysia that elders are also to be blamed for the social ills in the country.

Adolescence is often a time of conflicts - physically, emotionally and psychologicaly. It has now been established that most juvenile delinquents are school children. When school children display behaviour that merits concern, the authorities should call up their parents and make them aware of what has been observed about their children.

Such early 'warnings' could help parents take some preventive or remedial measures before their children add to the statistics of the country's criminal records. As such, the home and the schools have very important roles to play in the prevention of juvenile deliquency. If parents pay attention to the advice given by the Buddha as their duty towards their children, many of the problems created by the children can be curbed.


Running away from home is becoming a serious problem among our young people which gives parents much cause for concern. A 'runaway' youth is one who leaves home without permission with the intention of not returning. Young people run away because they feel a situation is intolerable. They see running away as a solution. But, in fact, it only takes them physically away from the problem. The mental stress and the trauma remain.

A social psychologist who has studied this modern day problem says running away 'is an irrational response to stress and frustration'. Indeed, 'there is enough reason in the home and school environments to prompt even the most mentally healthy person to consider flight as a way of coping.'

When a child starts to think about running away, he asks himself many questions. He bargains with himself a lot more than we adults think. Yet they are willing to give up the known security of home, however limited, for the unknown promises of a new environment. Why? It is because they are so desperate that they perceive that any alternative is better compared to the suffering they undergo at home. Running away is rarely well planned. It is a spontaneous, impulsive behaviour.

Some parents rigidly select and restrict their children's friends. Such parents may as a result encourage their children to think of running away - towards the promise of greater freedom outside their home. Girls tend to run away to escape a closed family and their parents' over-protectiveness; for example, having to make decisions about boy friends. Boys on the other hand often run away because they have been unsupervised for far too long. They have developed an impulsive and escapist behaviour, having got used to an unstructured life-style.

Strain may also sometimes arise from too little parenting. Parents preoccupied with work problems may be incapable of correcting their child's behaviour. On the other hand running away is almost always tied to excessive parental control and unrealistic parental expectations.

The country's current strong economic growth has led to various social problems which have affected the nation's youths.

With the advent of satellite television and the information superhighway, our youths will be exposed to even more information containing negative values which would lead to moral decay now haunting many youths in developed countries. We must prepare ourselves for the challenges of a new world ahead.


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updated: 15-11-2001