House defers debate on corporal punishment
AFC Member optimistic
Government will change position

Kaieteur News
December 8, 2006

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The much anticipated debate on corporal punishment in the National Assembly is now likely to take place next year, following a consensus agreement in the 65-Member Parliament to postpone debate on a Motion seeking to abolish the practice in schools.

Public debate on corporal punishment has intensified over the last few weeks, and yesterday a group of civil society members picketed outside Parliament Buildings urging Parliamentarians to support the Motion.

Alliance For Change (AFC) Member of Parliament (MP) Chantalle Smith, who tabled the Motion in the National Assembly, yesterday requested that the debate be deferred to a date not exceeding six months hence.

PPP/C frontbencher, Home Affairs Minister Clement Rohee, and PNCR-1G Member of Parliament Winston Murray supported Smith's request.

Smith stated that there have been signs of willingness to further study the issue from Members of all Parliamentary parties, political parties, groups, and individuals who may not currently support the Motion.

She noted that there was a demand, particularly for information on alternative forms of discipline. Smith noted that the postponement will allow sufficient time to obtain expert advice on the effects of corporal punishment in schools, alternative forms of discipline, and to study best practices from other countries.

“In light of our wish to see greater collaboration among Parliamentary parties, and between parties and civil society, early in the New Year, the AFC proposes to convene a discussion among various organisations and individuals who have expressed strong opinions on the issue of corporal punishment,” Smith stated.

She added that this will be done with a view to building consensus.

Smith told Kaieteur News that the AFC has been in contact with civil groups and the two major political parties.

She said that the AFC, which believes in consensus building, thought it could arrive at a consensus, given more time. “Rather than make this into a political issue, where parties are trying to score points, we would allow for time,” Smith stated.

She stated that, during the consultations, the government appeared open for further dialogue, and she expressed optimism that the opportunity afforded Government to further consult, the AFC could stir a change of position and up the momentum.

The AFC is supportive of the abolishment of corporal punishment under the new Education Act, and Smith, in her Motion, contends that the continuing use of corporal punishment in schools is in violation of the Constitution and Guyana 's obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Cabinet Secretary, Dr. Roger Luncheon, stated last week that the government, which has the majority in the National Assembly, recently said that it would not ban corporal punishment from the school system.

The government noted that, in the absence of a patently discernable rejection of corporal punishment by rank and file Guyanese, it is most unlikely that the administration will go out on a limb to abolish the practice.

The government has drafted a comprehensive plan to guide schools in the administering of corporal punishment, especially since it has the potential for abuse.

Smith wants the abolishment to be included in the new Education Act which is being drafted, and should be tabled in Parliament by August 2008.

This Act will take into account the Education Ministry's 2008-2015 Strategic Plan, which was finalised after some 34 regional and national consultations.

The main focus of the plan includes significantly improving literacy and numeracy skills; assuring greater equity in the sector; increasing the level of respect for tolerance and diversity; increased focus on educational human resource development; and the improvement of management and accountability.

Education Minister Sheik Baksh welcomed the AFC move to postpone the debate since the government, over a year ago, initiated a review of the Education Act.

“As part of the review, corporal punishment is a main item on the agenda. Intensive and very expansive consultations are currently taking place throughout the length and breadth of Guyana ,” Baksh stated.

He added that the Motion was pre-empting the outcome of the consultations, and noted that, by April next year, the Government will be able to take a definitive position on the issue.

Some 74 persons have publicly endorsed an open letter to Parliamentarians which stated that beating of children has no place in any society.

The group claims that corporal punishment attacks the child's body and not the problem itself, and is useless if the goal is to correct a particular behaviour.