Halt to beating children least demanding of human rights -GHRA
Stabroek News
December 12, 2006

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Local human rights activists say postponement of the debate on a proposed ban on corporal punishment in schools is the most recent example of a blinkered approach to dealing with the violence in the society.

In its message for International Human Rights day, the Guyana Human Rights Association (GHRA) says that what is needed is a confidence-building experience of unreservedly rejecting violence. "To stop beating our children," it says, "is the least demanding of the human rights challenges we face." The group also warned of the connotations that might be heralded for difficult issues, if the country's leaders fail to rise to the occasion now.

On Thursday, members of the National Assembly agreed to defer debate on a motion that called for a ban on corporal punishment in schools in hopes of building consensus on the issue.

However, the GHRA said it needs to be made clear that the proposed consultation on corporal punishment should only address how the ban would be implemented, and what the alternatives should be. Added to that, it emphasised that any attempts by the major parties to pretend there should be consultation on whether abolition should take place should be treated with the contempt it deserves.

What the group envisages is a countrywide campaign akin to the VAT initiative, to instruct how the ban would be implemented rather than by seeking rank and file opinion.

The GHRA did welcome the opportunity to debate the new Education Bill, but said the process must focus on important educational issues at stake. In this regard, it said, corporal punishment has nothing to do with education and the parliamentary parties must not be allowed to pretend it does. On an optimistic note, it said while the partisan nature of the motion to abolish corporal punishment is regrettable, the established parties have had ample opportunity in the past to take such initiatives themselves. It hoped that good diplomacy by all involved would rectify the situation and prevail over partisan inclinations.

Additionally, the group also noted the crucial need for the moderate Christian leadership in Guyana to challenge US-driven evangelism, which it characterised as holding "callous and inhumane attitudes" to the punishment of children. It said allowing fanatics to define the religious position on corporal punishment does a disservice both to religion and the society. Moreover, it added that articulating a reasonable religious position will also encourage a more progressive posture from the government. Such a step in the perspective of the group would represent an appropriate symbolic local rejection of the religious fanaticisms which it believes fuels much of the global violence.

The GHRA said the country's history is a constant reminder of how urgently it needs to face up to its tendency to violence. It noted that while it has been spared the ethnic and religious rivalries which fuel much of the world's violence, it still has much to answer for to explain the current unacceptable levels of criminal, gender and poverty-induced violence rooted in human rather than structural failing.

It said the country resists acknowledging the integrated nature of violence, instead picking and choosing the violence it condemns and the violence it condones. In fact, it said on what is feared is recognised as violence, while everything else is rationalized.

The result is a myopic perspective: criminals use violence, while retaliation is merely self-defence; the death penalty is just deserts and television violence is entertainment; gay-bashing lyrics are fun, racial violence corrects exclusion and domestic violence is family business. The GHRA said that in the same way that rights are indivisible and inter-dependent, so is violence. "We either cultivate respect for human beingsā€¦" it said, "or we do violence directly or indirectly."