Culture of beating children goes deep
-workshop on alternatives told
Stabroek News
June 17, 2004

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Corporal punishment is so ingrained in Guyanese society that it would be impossible to abolish it overnight, says Dr. Godfrey Sears, Director of the Guyana Psychological Centre.

He was speaking at the `Discipline without Beating' national workshop conducted by the National Commission on the Rights of the Child (NCRC) in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and the United Nations Children Fund yesterday.

Speaking at the two-day workshop that aims at exploring alternatives to corporal punishment in homes and schools, Sears said the objective of such punishment is to change behaviour and is meant to be painful.

But the concern is with the consequences of corporal punishment, according to Sears, because it affects all aspects of development. He pointed out that children have to adapt under such punishment and their behavioural patterns later become maladaptive.

Social avoidance is one consequence as well as other psychological and neurological damage, including strained peer relations and emotional problems. While there is physical injury a child can withdraw and become more aggressive.

Children usually develop distortions in the mind and experience depression while grappling with internalising disturbances, as a consequence of such punishment, Sears added.

Minister of Education Dr Henry Jeffrey said that physical punishment is viewed with abhorrence by his ministry. Jeffrey advocated the use of the media to play a role in broadcasting good practices in child rearing. He said that the issue of corporal punishment is debatable but the welfare of the child is not and remains of paramount importance.

He assured the NCRC that the outcome of the workshop would be accorded the utmost consideration.

First Lady Varshnie Jagdeo, Chairperson, NCRC, in her opening address said that excuses have been put forward for corporal punishment over the years such as religion, culture and parental rights.

She said the challenge to the nation is how to administer effective discipline and examine how conflicts are resolved across the board since people should discipline children and not violate their dignity.

She said the workshop is the first step for the commission and will reflect on the escalating violence in society and also consider ways in which such violence can be reduced.

According to her, the commission is not against discipline and it does not remove the right of parents to discipline children; it is not challenging parental authority.

Instead, NCRC is interested in knowing how children feel about being beaten and what they propose as alternatives.

With this in mind the commission launched a signature campaign a few months ago in primary and secondary schools in Georgetown to find out their view.

The First Lady said some 3,645 children in the primary schools were in favour of corporal punishment in schools and 2,043 were against it while at the secondary schools, 932 children were in favour and 1,335 against.

Similar workshops have been planned for New Amsterdam, Anna Regina, Linden, Mabaruma and Bartica to spread the word that there are effective alternatives to beating.

After the workshop is concluded recommendations will be made to the Minister of Education in the hope that Cabinet would open a debate on corporal punishment.

The opening ceremony featured a skit portraying the use of corporal punishment and its alternatives and a dance addressing the issue by a visiting Canadian troupe called `Wildfire'.