Corporal punishment in schools should end - President

By Miranda La Rose
Stabroek News
November 28, 2000

President Bharrat Jagdeo yesterday came out against corporal punishment in schools, but noted that a large section of the population believed it was the correct thing to do to maintain discipline in school.

Delivering the main address at the National Forum on Child abuse at Le Meridien Pegasus, President Jagdeo said that his statement might not be politically correct as comments in Stabroek News' `What the people say' feature yesterday, gave the impression that "a large section of our people believe it is alright in the school system." The President said that as a child and student he was subjected to it from his parents and teachers. "Many parents send their children to lessons where the teacher uses corporal punishment because they believe it is better for them." The situation, he said, was not going to change overnight and while discipline must be inculcated abuse must not be used.

At the risk of being politically incorrect a second time, Jagdeo said that the courts had not been dealing with cases of child abuse in a timely fashion. He said he wished that the judiciary had come "under [much] state control," as while he respected the independence of the judiciary, he wished that he had "more control in setting the timetable for the hearing of cases in which children are abused." He related an instance last week in which a mother went to see him claiming that five years ago her daughter was abused and the preliminary hearing had not been completed as yet. The child, he said, was now 15 years old and was now embarrassed to go to court. The mother--a poor woman, he said, has been offered money to drop the case but she is insisting that justice prevail.

Concerned parties, he said should not only focus on writing policy papers and correcting statistics, but "a few more of us should go out there and since we are in a protesting, picketing mood we can go out there and ask for a date for these children so that they too can get some justice." Jagdeo added: "Sometimes, I say, if you have money you can do wonders in the judiciary. I am fully conscious of what I am saying." Committing government to ensuring that children enjoyed their rights, Jagdeo said that its integrated comprehensive plan included a strong emphasis on education, health care and other social services. The commitment extended not only to material things but if legislation was needed, he said, government was committed to ensuring laws were put in place.

Noting that while corporal and other forms of punishment had been abolished from the statues governing schools in a number of developed countries, Jagdeo said it should not be forgotten that many of those countries "have problems in the schools--metal detectors and armed guards searching the children." So that in seeking solutions in disciplining students, he said, concrete initiatives suited to the local situation must be taken into consideration.

Jagdeo said that abuse was not only within the social system but very much in the political system. This, he said, was because "we do not have many conflict resolution skills."

Rather than go through the process of dialogue, Jagdeo said, "we want to talk violence". He said that this was the case three years ago following the last general elections. The protests and bomb treats to which children were subjected amounted to mental abuse and psychological trauma. He said that after the protests, a few friends from different ethnic backgrounds told him that their children had begun to wet their beds. Government and civil society had not examined the impact the traumatic experience has had on the children, especially those living in Georgetown, but he opined that years from now it was going to affect them.

"We do not want to scar our children," Jagdeo said. "We want them to have fertile minds so that they can flourish in the future and not be narrow minded."

He cautioned that while examining international practices, solutions to the problems should be homegrown. While foreign consultants might help, the "solutions must come from Guyanese working together and sharing their own views."

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