The right to flog
June 19, 2004
It started off as a workshop to bring about an end to corporal punishment in schools. It ended differently. The people, including the children, sent a message that corporal punishment should remain in schools.
For some time now, we have been debating the issue of corporal punishment. The letters flowed fast and furious. One man wrote in the press that adults beat children because they could. The contention here was that because they had the physical capability to, they would beat children.
However, during all the debate, there was no distinction between a spanking and a brutal beating. One letter writer, who now resides overseas, spoke of being afraid to go to school while another spoke of hating those teachers who flogged him.
We are aware that in the developed world corporal punishment was taboo. Parents were advised that they should not flog their children. Those who defied the law ended up before the courts and the children were taken from their care. Many a parent from the Caribbean, who grew up in a culture that made it clear that parents had a right to spank their children, ran into trouble.
In one case, a father packed his children for a holiday to Guyana. The children thought that they were coming for a joy ride. The father had other ideas. No sooner had the aircraft landed and he had cleared the local Customs and Immigration than he visited his daughter with a sound thrashing at the airport.
According to the reports, the father left this country without her because she had become unruly in the adopted country. She was aware that she could not be visited with any punishment. Her parents could not lock her out of the home and she couldn’t care less that they denied her certain privileges. She would break the rules anyhow.
But in the very society that outlawed corporal punishment the police would visit law breakers with some of the cruelest beating. There is not a person living in the metropolis who is not afraid of being left alone with a batch of policemen.
People died at the hands of the police. The message in those countries is that parents are not supposed to inflict physical punishment on their children but the state could.
Guyana, obviously bent on matching the developed world, seems bent on adopting the same rules although there is evidence that the rules have failed. Some states in the United States have reintroduced corporal punishment.
But we must hasten to note that corporal punishment does not mean physical abuse. Our laws are quite clear on abuse by parents. If the authorities find that the beating was nothing short of brutal, the parent ends up in jail.
Teachers who beat children to the point where the children’s bodies bore the scars of the beating have been sanctioned and this should be the case. But there is nothing to prevent a teacher or a parent from spanking a child for some misdemeanor.
As fate would have it, the organisers of the programme to eliminate corporal punishment sought to incorporate the views of the children. There was some objection that these people would solicit the views of the children outside the presence of the parent.
Some of the children did agree that there should be no beating but many felt that their peers were often indisciplined and needed a bit of the rod to walk the proverbial straight and narrow path.
At the workshop that ended on Thursday, many of the children felt that corporal punishment should be maintained in school. Of course, the religious leaders held steadfastly to the biblical quotation about sparing the rod and spoiling the child. Combined, they got their wish.
The signature campaign mounted by the organisers yielded precious little. The people accepted the reality. There must be some corporal punishment of the child to grow up to be the upstanding citizen that a society so desires.
This vote will not bring an end to the debate. The decision to keep corporal punishment in schools will not see an end to cruel beatings by teachers and parents. Beating will not necessarily change a child from his errant ways. But the widely held view is that there are those for whom flogging will be a deterrent.