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Global Information Network, 20 October 1999
Watchdog groups speak out against caning in schools
By Zarina Geloo
LUSAKA, Oct. 20 (IPS) -- Two Zambian children, Tresphord and Cephus, unaware that playing truant from school would earn them punishment, almost paid with their limbs as both were hospitalized with pus-infected wounds sustained from a beating from their teacher.
Neither the boys nor their parents filed a complaint. Other pupils viewed the incident as a punishment for staying away from school. Even when their plight was reported in the media there was no public outrage -- no debate.
The Ministry of Education says it has no plans to abolish corporal punishment in schools. Juveniles are also sometimes caned on orders from the courts for criminal acts. Defending the practice, the Ministry of Education says corporal punishment is a "disciplinary tool to be used in exceptional cases to deal with undisciplined children."
Zambia's Permanent Human Rights Commission (PHRC) Commissioner, Lavu Mulimba, admits that most Zambians do not view corporal punishment as a human rights abuse.
"People will just have to be jolted out of their complacency and be made to see that corporal punishment is inhumane", he says.
The PHRC is demanding that the amendment of Zambia's Education Act, that allows caning in schools, to be suspended until a national debate is held to determine a more effective and alternative mode of punishment for youths.
"The Education Act must comply with the constitution which bars any kind of torture, without exception," he says.
The Zambia Law Development Commission (ZLDC) has described corporal punishment as a "cruel, dehumanizing and degrading" practice. As a result, the ZLDC has embarked on a campaign to review, with the aim to amending, Zambia's entire Local Courts Act which has corporal punishment as one of the offenses under the African Customary Law.
The ZLDC, which has invited submissions from the public on its proposed amendments, says corporal punishment conflicts with the Zambian Constitution and international instruments like the one on torture, to which Zambia is a signatory.
Despite the ZLDC's appeal for debate, there has been no overwhelming rush to discuss and discard corporal punishment.
Theresa Thole, a teacher at a private school in Lusaka, the capital city, says without the threat of a beating, children will misbehave in the classroom.
"While we want to be seen to be civilized and copy the western world, let's set aside this human rights thing before we raise a bunch of unruly children. We all beat our children at home because we believe that it will straighten them out. If we thought alternative methods would work, we would use them," she says.
Head teacher, Beenewell Kabaso, says parents expect teachers to discipline pupils. "I have had some parents bring their children to me to give them a beating because they have misbehaved at home," he claims.
Gilbert Kapuwe, a parent, says as long as a child is not "physically injured" canning is good. He warns that if corporal punishment is abolished it will be a crime for a parent to cane his or her child. The child will also be entitled to take the parents to court for a criminal offense.
"Let us see this thing for what it is and not just pander to the ways of the western world who have problems with delinquents," he says.
Kapuwe says Zambian culture considers child beating as a good disciplinary measure, not a human rights abuse. It is unheard of not to beat a child for misbehaving. To try to change it, he says, will amount to asking Zambians to abdicate responsibility. "The argument will become as polemic as all others that deal with traditional values and norms," says Kapuwe.
His wife, Edna, an educationalist who supports the abolition of corporal punishment, says removing privileges, detention after school and manual work are some alternative forms of punishment.
Mulimba urged non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and civic rights groups to work together, to sensitize people to lobby parliament.
"It is simple, because we do not have to amend the constitution. All we have to amend is the Education Act. What we need is to get a Member of Parliament to move a private motion to amend the Act. To do this, civic society has to be made aware of this silent abuse," he says.
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