January 24, 2004
Once again, allegations of child beating in schools have surfaced. Thursday's edition of this newspaper reports that the Ministry of Education's Welfare Department is investigating an allegation that corporal punishment was administered to a six-year-old child 23 times in around three months. The Ministry of Human Services and Social Security's Probation Department has also launched an investigation. In fact when contacted, subject Minister Bibi Shadick not only confirmed that report but said she had received similar ones from parents of children at that school and others. One particularly horrible scenario, which the minister related, was where a teacher at another school had allegedly taped a child's lips together resulting in the child fainting. In the current matter, the teacher has denied the allegation and the school's headmistress says corporal punishment is not authorised and that this is reinforced at staff meetings.
On the same day, two letters were published on violence. In one, anti-violence activist Vidya Kissoon railed against the perceived apathy with regard to domestic violence and the murders committed as a result of this phenomenon; the seeming acceptance that infidelity or being 'pushed over the edge' justified ending a life. In the second letter, Artie Ricknauth quotes the American Psychological Association as affirming what all right-thinking people already know: exposing children to violence whether directly (battering them) or indirectly (watching their parents/guardians fight) can damage them. Similarly, if children are constantly being beaten in school, they become either withdrawn or aggressive and grow up to be either victims or abusers.
It is against the law for corporal punishment to be administered in schools in uncontrolled situations. The Ministry of Education's policy is that corporal punishment should only be administered as a last resort. Yet, there have been incidents over the years where children have been seriously injured physically by abusive teachers. While the reported incidents of actual physical harm to children by teachers have not been as many, it should be noted that as with other types of violence, not all cases are made public. And even where there are no physical signs of injury, psychological harm is being done whenever and wherever children are constantly exposed to violence.
"Children learn what they live; children live what they learn," a once popular song says. People who aspire to be parents, teachers and child minders should be required to memorise the words of this song. As long as children continue to be violated and abused, the cycle of violence will continue. Neither the Domestic Violence Act nor any other legal response to brutality, now and in time to come will be able to change violent behaviour. Years of sustained therapy might do it, but in Guyana, as in many other countries in the world, this will never happen.
Violence, just like every other weed, will spring forth again and again if only the top is removed; it has to be uprooted. Its seeds must not be allowed to germinate. We can make a huge impact on the problems of domestic and all other forms of violence if we just do our duty. Protect our children.