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Zimbabwe: Spanking - How Far Can It Go?

SPARE the rod and spoil the child is a popular saying among Zimbabweans. It has some link to the Biblical Proverbs 13vs24 which reads: "He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him". (KJV).The saying has been construed to promote the use of corporal punishment in the home and schools.

And for a long time the saying has been revered and obeyed.

It is now deeply embedded in traditional practice, making its abolition difficult.

Administration of corporal punishment, in schools has however, raised concern among stakeholders who either feel that it should be stopped or upheld.

Although statistics are not available to substantiate the fact that children are being injured during spanking at school, media reports show that corporal punishment is a form of abuse perpetrated in schools.

This is in violation of the rule that when administering corporal punishment, it has to be in the presence of someone in authority.

In some cases, pupils have been taken to hospital after being beaten by teachers.

Only this month, some Form Four pupils at Nyatsime College were severely assaulted by a security guard.

Last year, an eight-year-old pupil from Murehwa sustained serious injuries after being assaulted by a teacher for failing to bring a broom.

And in October 2009, a Chinhoyi High School sports director allegedly struck and killed a 16-year-old boy with a cricket bat while the caretaker held him.

That same month, a headmaster at Eveline High School forced a schoolgirl to undress before severely assaulting her.

As a result, there is no justification for the continuation of corporal punishment in schools, social settings and general family life. Justice for Children Trust programmes director Mr Caleb Mutandwa said any changes to the current law require the support of all stakeholders.

"We do not have consolidated figures on occurrence of corporate punishment among numbers in the country's schools.

"Our surveys however, have shown that children are worried at the frequency of the beatings, severity and the reasons they are receiving corporal punishment. Some of the children are complaining that they are being beaten for things that they do not have control over, for example, failure to procure school uniforms and paying school fees or buying books," he said.

Mr Mutandwa said corporal punishment was now making children cringe at the presence of their teachers and was not instilling discipline in the children.

He appealed to education authorities to ensure that regulations on administration of corporal punishment are respected.

"Current regulations require that corporal punishment be administered by the headmaster or senior master in the presence of another person.

"Teachers are not adhering to these regulations hence the increase in cases of injuries to children in schools. But as an organisation we feel there is need to institute research before we can call for the abolishment of corporal punishment. Before that authorities need to ensure that the current framework on punishment is adhered to.

"Some teachers keep sticks, pieces of old tyres and planks as disciplinary tools, which has left children learning in fear," he said.

Mr Mutandwa said it was important that corporal punishment be done only in extreme cases or for very serious offences.

Parents interviewed said the school environment was no longer safe as teachers were abusing the right to administer corporal punishment.

They said people who are being given the right to protect children are becoming dangerous hence the need to do away with corporal punishment.

"Schools are no longer child friendly and there is need for Government to institute laws that forbid corporal punishment. We understand that there is a mechanism through which spanking can be administered.

"I remember back then when I was in school, not every teacher was allowed to beat pupils. That was left to the headmasters and senior staff who had to do it in the presence of another teacher to guard against overdoing it," said Ms Maureen Matiza of Glen Lorne.

Another parent, Mrs Precious Mkomera, said it would be unwise to do away with corporal punishment.

"I understand that there are instruments to regulate the administration of corporal punishment that are not being followed.

"Government must come up with modalities to ensure that regulations on corporate administration are adhered to. At most schools, teachers who employ corporal punishment are known but headmasters often choose to ignore it until something bad happens.

"School authorities should institute disciplinary measures whenever teachers disobey regulations."

Mrs Mkomera said most teachers were frustrated by their working conditions and were thus venting their anger on schoolchildren.

One teacher said corporal punishment should be permitted, if Zimbabwe is to train its citizens into responsible citizens.

"Corporal punishment should not be abolished totally but administered within the existing laws. Abolishing it will spell doom for the country's education system as children will be uncontrollable," he said.

Most international human rights groups are advocating total abolishment of corporal punishment saying it violates children's rights to dignity and physical integrity.

The Global Initiative, a human rights organisation involved with children rights issues argues that the legality of corporal punishment in almost every state worldwide challenges the universal right to equal protection under the law.

Under the initiative dubbed the "The Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children," the activists advocate that governments should move speedily to implement legal reform and public education programmes on corporal punishment.

But the once-silent victims of corporal punishment - the children - are now beginning to express their own views about it and concede they are living in fear of being injured by school authorities.

"Personally, I don't want to be beaten up but there is nothing I can do. The options are very few, you either accept corporal punishment or get expelled. Who wants to be expelled?

"We are being exposed to various forms of harassment that sometimes leave you thinking that the teachers are out to vent their frustrations on us," said Makanaka, a Form Four student at Queen Elizabeth High School in Harare.

Kudakwashe Machingura of Beatrice said: "There are instances we know that our teacher will beat us. Sometimes we are assaulted for coming to school late despite the fact that you would have travelled for nearly 10km in this cold.

"The teacher keeps a thick cooking stick that he beats us with on the back. I am not totally against being disciplined but am worried about the frequency and reasons for assaults," he said.

Hazel Rutendo of Zengeza said: "There is no distinction between boys and girls during corporal punishment."

"I feel some of our teachers are just keen to beat students for no reason and that is unfair. At least I need to now why I deserve to be beaten."

Zimbabwe Progressive Teacher Union programmes and communication manager Mr Oswald Madziva said the call to ending corporal punishment was a drift away from the thinking that children were born a mass of sin needed to be corrected towards the idea that children were pure and only corrupted by the environment.

He sad it was wrong to view teachers that were administering corporal punishment as ruthless and animalistic as they were seeking to get the best out of the children.

"Its quite stressful for teachers who have to deal with children coming to school late, bullying others, not doing school work and many other such misdemeanors.

"At the end of the day, you then asked to account for that child's failure. It the society still demands good result from teachers, the system needs to offer an alternative," Mr Madziva said.

He said the union was calling its members to stop beating the children because the penalties on them was heavy.

"In any case extremes are uncalled for. Such cases usually happen when corporal punishment is administered whilst in anger.

"Corporal punishment as a corrective measure should be modest, minimal and have a human face. Going to headmasters whenever you want to administer corporal punishment is not practical for big school."

Education, Art, Sport and Culture Minister Senator David Coltart insisted that there was a statutory instrument that outlined when corporal punishment could be adopted and this was done in limited circumstances. Anything done outside those perimeters, he said, was illegal and thus punishable under the national laws.

Analysts however suggested that teachers should opt for detention classes - where students stay behind on Friday or any other half-day for reading and cleaning school environment.

According to the laws of Zimbabwe, corporal punishment is lawful in the home and school.

The Constitution (1979) as amended in 1990 allows "moderate" corporal punishment "in appropriate circumstances upon a person under the age of 18 years."

In schools, where the bone of contention is most severe, the law allows corporal punishment only for boys, under Article 241 of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act and Article 66 of the Education Act (2004).

This makes corporal punishment permissible only for disciplinary purposes.

July 14, 2011
The Herald

Where to next? Pick one!

Posted in: News on July 30, 2011 @ 4:29 PM

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