Child abuse in schools

Stabroek News
October 18, 2000

A study of teacher abuse of children in secondary schools in Guyana, conducted under the auspices of the Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Guyana (UG), has revealed significant abuse by teachers, including sexual abuse.

This study was presented at a public forum dealing with `New Research in the Social Sciences in Guyana', more than two weeks ago. Presenting the report, Brenda Gill-Marshall, a UG Social Sciences graduate, related that 1,200 children in 24 secondary schools in seven of the ten administrative regions of Guyana had been surveyed.

Factored into the survey as forms of abuse were some disciplinary methods, which perhaps should not have been included; 261 children were made to stand on the bench, 410 were put out of class during instruction, 697 were whipped and 226 were made to kneel.

Teachers must be able to discipline children who are disrupting classes, and putting such children to stand on the bench, to kneel, or asking him/her to leave the class during instruction are common methods used. Corporal punishment is specifically provided for in regulation 94 of the Education Code Regulations which states that for serious or repeated offences corporal punishment may be administered by the headteacher or by an assistant teacher over twenty years of age authorised by the headteacher. In that case, the headteacher must be present. Punishment has traditionally been whipping with a cane on the hand for girls and on the bottom for boys. Girls must be beaten by a female teacher or by the headteacher in the presence of a female teacher.

It cannot, therefore, be said that corporal punishment legally amounts to an abuse once it is carried out in accordance with the regulations. However, according to the survey, teachers acted in contravention of the regulations. Teachers not authorised to administer lashes did so and no record was kept of whippings as required by the regulations.

But what was worse was that the report revealed that 172 children were cursed; 135 were called derogatory names by teachers; 488 were insulted; 592 were neglected; 69 were kissed; 21 were fondled; 160 had teachers use obscene words to them; 30 had sexual intercourse with teachers.

Secondary school children range in age from 12 to 18 years; average age 15. Clearly, these children's rights have been violated and by persons whom they felt they could trust. Where are the voices lifted in protest--of parents, guardians, the Ministry of Education, the Guyana Human Rights Association, the National Commission on the Rights of the Child? The silence has been deafening.

The researcher suggested that truancy, school drop-out and poor performance were some of the results of abuse at school, while in some instances children reacted by fighting teachers or taking their parents to do so. Some teachers blamed the frequent non-intervention by the Ministry of Education for the continuing abuses.

Since the survey was done with the blessing of UG, it can safely be assumed that permission to conduct it was sought at and granted by the Ministry of Education. It must also be assumed that a copy of these findings would have been presented to the ministry upon completion of the survey. Have the Chief Education Officer and the Minister of Education been given copies of this survey? Or is it sitting on someone's desk, forgotten?

The researcher surmised that there was a tendency to cover up or discourage reports of abuse; that some parents gave teachers the go-ahead to physically abuse their children, while others ignored complaints of sexual and other abuse made by their children.

Minister of Education, Dr Dale Bisnauth, had called a survey among nine, ten and 11 year olds, which revealed that 36% of them were unable to read, tragic and alarming. He must be at a loss for words to describe this exploitation of youths which can only serve to make them dysfunctional and further reduce the standard of education in this country.

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