UN Convention on the Rights of the Child may ban corporal punishment
January 27, 2002
In your issue of December 19 2001 there was a report of the responses of the Hon. Minister of Education to representatives of the media on the matter of the abolition or retention of corporal punishment in schools as a consequence of Guyana's ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child which has also been incorporated by reference in the recently revised Constitution of the Republic of Guyana.
The report stated that at present it is the view of the Ministry "that administering corporal punishment should be a last resort and it must not be administered by any teacher outside the head teacher's preview".
The minister is also reported as having asserted that the ministry was aware that corporal punishment was "not being administered as it should be". In answer to a further question whether the retention of corporal punishment in the school system would not be going against the Convention, the Minister is reported to have declared that "Conventions were not meant to be dogmas" and that "some things must be seen in the context of the country's socio-economic situation and, while in the Convention there were many other things that were useful and Guyana was a party to it, as a country we must make a determination".
I am concerned at the report of the statements attributed to the Minister having regard to the publication in your columns last April of my letter in which I had raised the issue of the legal effect of the articles of the Convention in Guyana, particularly with reference to discipline in schools. In paragraph 1 of article 19 of the Convention, it is stated that States Parties to the Convention "shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse while in the care of parent(s), legal guardians(s) or any other person who has care of the child." Also article 28, paragraph 2, enjoins States Parties to the Convention to take "all appropriate measures to ensure that school discipline is administered in a manner consistent with the child's human dignity and in conformity with the present Convention." Then, in article 37 paragraph (a), States are mandated to ensure that "no child shall be subjected to torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment."
In my previous letter I posed the question whether the framers of the Convention - the representatives of states - intended that corporal punishment should be included in the concept of cruel, inhuman or degrading punishment. I suggested that the records of the UN relating to the several meetings and conferences at which the provisions of the Convention were developed, negotiated and finally drafted for adoption by the representatives of States might clarify the matter, if indeed clarification is necessary. Unless the official records establish otherwise, it seems to me that the prohibition in article 37 paragraph (a) applies. Furthermore, there is no indication that Guyana, at the time of ratifying the Convention, made any reservation to any article of the Convention. The issue which is now being debated in Guyana may also be under consideration by policy makers and other interested groups in other CARICOM States. It may prove useful to undertake an inquiry within CARICOM. It is of interest to note that at the Caribbean Conference on the rights of the Child, held in October 1996 in Belize and attended by representatives of CARICOM Governments and other agencies the Belize Commitment to Action for the Rights of the Child was adopted. They committed themselves "to review and revise the relevant laws, policies and programmes to fully comply with the letter and spirit of the Convention on the Rights of the Child." They also "challenged themselves to expand the promotion of the rights of children and improve the living conditions of Caribbean families through certain specific actions and commitments including the above mentioned Belize commitment".
Finally, I must utilise this opportunity to refer to Mr Lorri Alexander's interesting letter published in SN of 3 January concerning corporal punishment in our educational institutions in former times. I understand the sentiments expressed by him having myself been a pupil more than one-half of a century ago, but changes occur with the passage of time - how fortunate for the present generation of students!