December 4, 2006
The debate about corporal punishment has raised its head again with the proponents determined to maintain their position that corporal punishment is a deterrent while the opponents are positive that corporal punishment either makes killers of children or makes them psychologically disturbed.
Corporal punishment has been with society ever since man began to walk this earth. People used it to keep errant children in line and while some abused this form of punishment, many of the older people in the society today will credit such physical punishment with helping them to become better and responsible citizens. Amazingly, most of the opponents of corporal punishment only focus on flogging in schools while a few extend their definition to all cases of flogging of children. Very few would object to adults being flogged and indeed this was the case more than a decade ago when certain sentences carried a whipping of a flogging.
Many would still remember a sentence of twelve years and twelve strokes, or ten years with 10 strokes. Really serious criminals were visited with the cat-o-nine tails and rarely did any of them venture back into the prisons. Some were disfigured and suffered serious ailments.Others were whipped with a birch rod or with plaited tamarind rods, and the society uttered nary a peep because the people were convinced that such punishment was merited. Guyana 's objection to corporal punishment coincided with similar protestations in the United States about a decade ago. Then there were United Nations conventions to which many countries adhered. However, there have always been anomalies. The very people who began to monitor cases of corporal punishment would visit the same punishment on the people they arrested on the streets.
In Guyana , there is a profound silence when a chain snatcher is caught and beaten by the people who chase him down. A thief caught in someone's yard is also beaten severely, sometimes to death, but the society remains silent. One must therefore wonder whether there is a sadistic streak in all of us. Some of the very opponents of corporal punishment never hesitated to inflict pain on thieves and bandits. The government insists that corporal punishment would not be abolished since the overwhelming majority of Guyanese feel that it is necessary. And a few short years ago, a survey conducted by the proponents of the Rights of the Child revealed that some 70 per cent of school children felt that corporal punishment was necessary.
In the United States , some of the states that actually abolished corporal punishment have moved to have it reintroduced. They found that despite the best of the new methods of punishment some would only react to corporal punishment.
In the local school system there are rules governing corporal punishment. Those rules stipulate that such punishment must only be administered by a senior teacher and if indeed a junior teacher must inflict the punishment then he or she must do so in the presence of a senior teacher.
A few weeks ago, a parent objected to his son being flogged and the end result was that the teacher was transferred from the school. It transpired that the entire class received a few strokes on the hand for misbehaviour and while most of the other parents concurred with the punishment this parent objected most vehemently, taking the matter to the Teaching Service Commission which ended up transferring the teacher.
The debate on corporal punishment would rage for a long time in the same way that the debate on death penalty would. There are people who believe that if the death penalty is executed there would be a drop in violent crimes. These people see the penalty as a deterrent. And while there is no hard evidence to support the deterring effect of the death penalty, Guyanese are convinced that its use brought an abrupt end to the reign of terror that the kick-down-the-door bandits imposed on the society. In the same way there are people who are convinced that the threat of corporal punishment is a deterrent.
Indeed, there have been cases where such punishment was taken to the extreme. One father dunked his son's hand in a pot of boiling water with the result that the child lost all his fingers. A mother held her child's hands over a flame and others beat their children so severely that many of these children would go to their graves with the marks of violence. But for all this the vast majority of people are responsible parents who operate within limits. There have been cases of parents crying after flogging the child.
The bottom line is that reward and punishment go hand in hand and corporal punishment is seen as the ultimate form of punishment.