No flogging fireworks By Chamanall Naipaul
Guyana Chronicle
December 8, 2006

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THE anticipated fireworks over flogging children in schools in the National Assembly turned into a damp squib yesterday after parties agreed to postpone debate for at least another six months to allow more consultations on the issue.

The motion before the House calling for the abolition of corporal punishment was tabled by Ms. Chantalle Smith of the Alliance For Change (AFC).

But during yesterday’s sitting, the party requested a deferral of the matter for not later than six months for greater consultations and discussions because of its seriousness.

Home Affairs Minister, Mr. Clement Rohee, and Mr. Winston Murray of the main opposition People’s National Congress Reform-One Guyana (PNCR-IG), expressed their respective party’s concurrence with the request by the AFC.

The former alluded to the recognition by the government of the need for more intensified consultations and discussions on the issue which has been generating increasing attention recently.

Representatives of several organisations supporting abolishing corporal punishment in schools mounted a peaceful picketing exercise outside the National Assembly before its sitting.

Education Minister, Mr. Shaik Baksh told the Guyana Chronicle the AFC tabled the motion but “good sense has prevailed”, referring to the deferment of the debate.

He said the motion had pre-empted the government’s position on the matter, explaining that the administration has initiated a review of the Education Act of which corporal punishment forms a major part

It is planned that legislation on revising the Education Act will be brought before the National Assembly by August next year following a consultative process involving a wide cross-section of society and all stakeholders.

Meanwhile, a group comprising representatives of political parties, women’s organisations and non-governmental organisations has written an open letter to Members of Parliament calling for the abolition of corporal punishment in schools.

“We, the undersigned believe that beating of children in schools has no place in any society, and especially in our society where we still have to overcome a history in which institutional violence was used during slavery, indentureship and colonialism to force submission and to entrench relations of superiority and inferiority,” the group contends.

According to the group, “physical abuse which masquerades as corporal punishment in our schools” while not solely responsible for the rise in societal violence, is an important contributor.

A 2005 UNICEF/Ministry of Labour, Human Services and Social Security/Red Thread Report titled `Voices of Children: Experiences with Violence’ says:

“The 2002 Ministry of Education guidelines on corporal punishment state that corporal punishment of children should not be used by class teachers, but only by the head teacher in extreme cases. However, during the survey, children reported that corporal punishment is administered more often by teachers in the classroom that by the heads in schools.”

The AFC has put forward several arguments to support its abolition call and these include that Guyana in 1991 signed and ratified the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child; Article 19 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse; the UN Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child has consistently proposed the abolition of corporal punishment; the Government of Guyana’s report to the Committee on the Convention of the Rights of the Child of July 29, 2002 stated that enhanced legislation is an integral element in this country’s efforts to give tangible effect to the provisions of the Constitutional Reform Commission (CRC), and that the CRC acknowledged as well that the Convention on the Rights of the Child should inform constitutional provisions to protect the rights of children.