Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Spank the Riotous Devil Out of the Brats!

At the rate of 10 riots a day over the last one month, indiscipline in our schools is clearly running out of hand and brings back to the spot light the ban on corporal punishment effected here in 2001. It is possible that the then touted alternative forms of instilling discipline in schools have been overwhelmed and that the negative consequences of withdrawing the cane far outweigh any goodness that may accrue from maintaining the ban.

At a world conference on education in Dakar in 2000, Kenya had been cited as one of the countries that “institutionalized violence and promoted child abuse by including corporal punishment in its statutes”. The Human Rights Watch had also just released a report on corporal punishment in Kenyan schools in which it painted a gloomy picture of child abuse saying that “Kenyan teachers were licensed to beat their students” and that “infliction of corporal punishment in Kenya is unchecked, widespread, arbitrary and often brutal”. The media, on the other hand, had joined in the anti-caning campaign by picking up incidents of abuse and putting them to daily limelight. Under this pressure, the government gave in and scrapped the laws governing corporal punishment in March 2001.

About 100 countries have banned corporal punishment in schools and at least 23 of them have gone ahead to outlaw it in homes too. Parents in these countries cannot spank, slap or otherwise use corporal punishment on children and anything that goes beyond the occasional smack would constitute a criminal offense. Needless to say, none of the 23 countries is from Africa even though the UN has targeted 2009 as the deadline by which a worldwide ban on corporal punishment will have been implemented, including in the home. The date is just around the corner and will likely pass without much ado in countries like the United States where corporal punishment is still legal in 23 of its states. And it has still not been prohibited in the other half of the countries in the world.

The crisis in our hands suggests that withdrawal of the cane from the arsenal of tools for instilling discipline in schools has spiraled down to this fiery state of lawlessness. A common thread running in the affected areas is that “our hands are tied”. The teachers seem to be watching helplessly where they should be stepping in with a steady cane to nip the unruliness in the bud. And where is the Human Rights Watch now as the fires rage, pupils die? Moved on to the next project.

One of the biggest disservices that HRW and kindred brethren have done to the discourse on school discipline has been to continually equate punishment to violence and abuse. The refusal to distinguish between abusive violence and corrective punishment suggests an inclination to self-serving propaganda rather than a desire to clarify issues. There is an obvious difference between an adult in authority punishing wrong doing and a person indiscriminately beating up another for the purpose of causing injury.
The critical issue to be addressed by our laws is how corporal punishment should be administered and not whether it should be used at all. The failure by authorities to supervise application of these laws is not good enough reason to scrap the law altogether. This ban is simply pandering to the questionable wishes of such groups as the HRW and assorted UN bodies without necessarily addressing the critical situation at hand. Is the current lawlessness and damage in schools worth the indulgence extended to these defiant children? The HRW may well argue that children have a right to deviance but aren’t such rights trampling on those of many well behaved kids who are entitled to an education in a safe environment?

In the haste to comply with lobby group reports, it seems that no questions were asked to test the veracity of the data purporting to justify the ban. For instance the report by HRW, Spare the Child: Corporal Punishment in Kenya Schools, was compiled after a two week survey of 20 schools and 200 pupils. The survey team comprised of 5 HRW staff; three law students and one law lecturer, all from the US. The fifth was a lawyer to HRW children division. An elite team of spin doctors if you ask me. There is nothing in the report that even suggests an attempt to remedy the obvious bias of the entire set up by way of a third party review of their methodology. Strangely, they admit in the report that many of the Kenyans they talked to agreed that corporal punishment should not be severe as to cause injury and that only a few viewed it as a major source for concern. How then do they turn around to give blanket condemnation of caning in schools? Because, as they say in the report, “Kenyan Rights groups have now added corporal punishment to their advocacy agendas”. Somebody say funding! Amen.

Any group of propagandists can collect data to say pretty much what they want to hear. For instance, a pro-spanking lobby can quite easily collect the data from last months rioting to effectively consign the HRW report to the rubbish bin.

While giving advocacy groups due respect and attention, government should be careful not to use their programs as the sole force behind a haphazard tinkering with our laws. Many of the reports by these groups are a little more than subjective opinions and commentaries, not the sturdy stuff that ought to shape laws which can stand the test of time.

Related article; Down Memory Lane - How Were Your School Years?

1 comment:

Hall Monitor said...

Check out about a Florida school that just banned spankings at school this week!

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