Corporal punishment linked to violent behaviours
• Social entities say abolition imperative

Kaieteur News
December 8, 2006

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Corporal punishment administered to children has been linked to violent behaviour later in life.

This is according to the Co-ordinator of Help and Shelter, Ms Margaret Kertious, who said that most cases of reported violent abuses are committed by people who suffered violent treatment at a young age.

Kertious notes that while Help and Shelter exists to protect those who are abused, it also renders a counselling service to perpetrators.

Perpetrators are referred for counselling to the social entity by the Courts or by their victims.

And though perpetrators of violent acts are often reluctant to unveil their past experiences, Kertious said it is through the counselling sessions that these facts emanate.

As such, Help and Shelter continually tries to educate people in an effort to break the cycle of violent behaviours.

It is against this background that Help and Shelter supports the motion by the Alliance For Change (AFC) to abolish corporal punishment under the new Education Act.

The motion was submitted by AFC's Member of Parliament Chantelle Smith with the hope of having the National Assembly view corporal punishment in schools as a direct violation of Article 19 of the United Nations 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, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.

Several other stakeholders including non-governmental organisations and members of civic society have since signalled their support to the cause.

In like manner, the Guyana Human Rights Association, in a statement, condemned the allowance of corporal punishment.

“The retention of corporal punishment as a permissible form of discipline in Guyana is utterly indefensible. It must be seen for what it is – violence against children. Beating a child is abusive and always wrong. It has survived only because in Guyana the concept of a child as a person in his/her own right is outweighed by authoritarian notions of children as the property of adults, whose characters are to be shaped by fear, pain and suffering.”

The GHRA statement further stresses that corporal punishment abuses children, demeans teachers and fosters no positive values whatever, and is illegal since it violates the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

As such, the human rights entity believes that it is imperative that corporal punishment be abolished forthwith. “Abolition of corporal punishment would help to dissolve the image of indecisiveness and ambivalence about violence in general which the government has attracted. Such responsible leadership would also challenge rather than pander to the violence-oriented elements in the society,” states the release.

The GHRA points out that efforts over the years to use corporal punishment in a measured way and as a last resort have decisively failed.

“The last five years have witnessed instances of young school children suffering broken bones, lacerations and other disfigurement from corporal punishment by teachers.”

It outlines too that the average school environment negates the conditions necessary for discretionary use of violence. These conditions include the absence of an integrated system of educational values, stressful conditions of work -- over-crowded classes, low salaries, etc -- teachers being poorly trained in management of pupils and an increasingly violent society.

“The current practice is justified by a piece of colonial legislation (Reg.37/1943) put in place originally for use in training (correctional) institutions, not schools,” the GHRA posits.

In 1991, the education regulations set out alternative forms of punishment such as specific assignments, detentions, loss of privileges and denial of concessions. In June of 1993, the Chief Education Officer issued circular #3 which states “Corporal punishment (by teachers' own statements) has often been administered for unsatisfactory work.

The responsibility for really poor work in most cases rests upon the teacher or, when attendance is irregular, upon the parents and in neither case is punishment of the child likely to have any beneficial effect whatever.

On the contrary, it tends to make the child resentful while the inefficient teacher will invariably use it as a cloak for his inefficiency.”

In this regard, the CARICOM governments in October 1996 adopted the Belize Commitment to Action for the Rights of the Child in accordance to the UN Convention.

Further, in 2001, the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) recognised that different forms of violence against children such as corporal punishment, bullying, harassment and verbal and emotional abuse were interlinked, and that violence in the home and school context reinforced one another.

As such, in 2004, the 35 th session of the UN Committee on the CRC recommended that Guyana should expressly prohibit corporal punishment in schools. GHRA theorises that corporal punishment must be taken off the statute books and the list of suggested alternatives developed by the Education Ministry be updated, codified and introduced into the school system as soon as possible.

Educators, parents and children must be assisted to develop positive values of discipline rather than cling to a punitive mind-set, according to GHRA.

“These values should be reflected in appropriate legislation, particularly the Education Act and the Children's Act. Teacher training should incorporate appropriate courses to address issues of resolving conflict and stress management.”

In addition to a public education campaign, GHRA believes that the Education Ministry must act decisively to promote a more humane environment in the school system.

“Violence by teachers must be seen publicly to attract serious penalties,” states GHRA.