Education Ministry still backing corporal punishment
Stabroek News
November 28, 2006

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The education ministry yesterday said it was firm in its view that corporal punishment must be administered in schools but in strict compliance with guidelines.

With the debate on this issue picking up steam, Deputy Chief Education Officer Roopnarine Tewari said the Ministry will not condone breaking the law and physical punishment is a last resort for teachers for the maintenance of discipline and order. "€¦All reports on incidents of corporal punishment outside the framework of the regulations are investigated immediately," Tewari was quoted as saying yesterday, in a Government Information Agency (GINA) news release.

The Education Act provides for head teachers or an assistant teacher over 20 years of age to administer corporal punishment on students for serious or repeated offences. It says too that whenever a head teacher authorises an assistant teacher to administer corporal punishment, it must be done in the presence of the head and under his direction. The law requires an entry on the same day in the punishment book detailing the nature and extent of the penalty along with the reason for it. Tewari said the Ministry is "doing everything it can" to ensure that corporal punishment is properly administered and he mentioned that several teachers have been sent before the disciplinary committee of the Teaching Service Commission for physically punishing students without permission from the school head, or from the senior staff.

In the past week, corporal punishment has come into focus as the new Human Services Minister Priya Manickchand drew attention to the need to revisit the issue, while her colleague, Alliance For Change (AFC) Member of Parliament Chantalle Smith submitted a motion for the National Assembly to recommend the abolition of the physical punishment in schools.

Manickchand, at the local launch of the UN Secretary General's study on violence against children, called for the debate on corporal punishment in schools to be re-opened. "Let's do this thing fairly, don't pass around a paper to children to ask them whether they want to be beaten in school or not," she said, while describing the current system as ineffective and highlighting many cases of abuse that have been found.

Meanwhile, Smith's motion calls for the National Assembly to declare the continued use of corporal punishment in schools a violation of Article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), and a violation of the Constitution. In this regard, she is asking that the Parliament recommend the abolition of corporal punishment under the new Education Act.

Article 19 of the Convention says, "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." Guyana ratified the CRC in 1991.

The Committee on the Convention on the Rights of the Child has consistently proposed the abolition of corporal punishment when the reporting process under the convention has revealed the continued existence of school corporal punishment. The Government of Guyana, in its report to the Committee of the Convention of the Rights of the Child in July of 2002 also noted that enhanced legislation is an integral element in this country's efforts to give tangible effect to the provisions of the CRC. It said too that the Constitutional Reform Commission acknow-ledged that the provisions of the CRC should inform constitutional provisions to protect children's rights. Added to that, the Oversight Committee for the revised Constitution subsequently accepted the above recommendations and in 2001 these rights were accorded the status of fundamental rights in the amended Constitution.

The AFC acknowledged that there is still some support for maintaining corporal punishment in schools, but said it is largely because parents and teachers have not been provided with alternative methods of disciplining children. It recalled that in recent years there have been several incidents where children have been seriously injured by teachers and head teachers who were administering corporal punishment. As a result, it says the Ministry of Education must take the lead in ensuring that no more children are placed in this position by abolishing corporal punishment in schools and providing information and training on alternative forms of discipline for teachers and caregivers.

Meanwhile, GINA says that after a series of countrywide consultations that were recently held to facilitate parental and community participation on the issue, a study done by the Ministry of Education indicated that the Guyanese populace is deeply divided on whether or not to abolish corporal punishment.