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School CP - July 2000

Inter Press Service English News Wire, 5 July 2000

Rights - Indonesia

Beatings Have No Place In School, Experts Say

JAKARTA, Jul. 5 (IPS) -- Nine-year-old Yustina was shocked and terrified when her teacher whipped her in front of her classmates after the child missed church. Believing she was given too harsh a punishment, Yustina complained to her mother, only to be told: "That's your fault. I told you to go to church, but you chose to play." Distressed, Yustina recounted the five lashes she endured to her grandfather, who immediately confronted her teacher in the small village of Ruteng in Flores, East Nusa Tenggara, one of the predominantly Christian provinces in mainly Muslim Indonesia. Eyeing the knife Yustina's grandfather was carrying, the teacher explained that the whipping was meant to teach "disobedient" pupils discipline.

Yustina's case is hardly an isolated incident. Despite growing condemnation of corporal punishment around the world, it still a common practice at many schools in Indonesia. "The teachers think that by giving corporal punishment to students, they will get a quick remedy and tame recalcitrant students," says Indra Djati Sidi, director-general of elementary and secondary education of the Ministry of National Education.

"Not every teacher in Indonesia thinks beating children is a bad thing," concedes Anne-Marie Fonseka, an official with the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) in Jakarta. Results of a recent UNICEF study show that students in many parts of Indonesia -- Palembang in South Sumatra, Semarang in Central Java, Ujung Pandang in South Sulawesi and Kupang in East Nusa Tenggara -- suffer physical abuse from their teachers. Aside from Palembang, Semarang, Ujung Pandang, and Kupang, the UNICEF study covered the cities of Medan, North Sumatra and Surabaya, East Java. At schools in Medan and Surabaya, students also suffer physical abuse from friends, adds the study.

In a country where children's rights are a new concept and teachers are seen to have complete authority inside schools, corporal punishment has never been much of a public issue. "The Indonesian people think corporal punishment at schools or child abuse by teachers is a sensitive issue so they do not talk about it, but in reality it is one of the underlying causes why children drop out of schools," Fonseka says. "If there is a lot of corporal punishment at schools, it is a turn-off for the children. How can the children study hard when their environment is not good?" she argues.

However, the Ministry of National Education has never conducted a comprehensive survey of the problem. "The Ministry of National Education is aware of the street brawls among students, but not the beatings done by the teachers to their students," Fonseka laments. Student brawls, locally known as "tawuran," are a common occurrence in Indonesia.

"There are too many teachers in Indonesia so it is very difficult to know them one by one and monitor their actions," Sidi says. There are at least two million private and public school teachers at 173,000 elementary and junior high schools in Indonesia, a country of more than 200 million people. "Teachers are regarded quite highly in the society. The people do not question their decisions," Fonseka says, explaining the societal norms that treat the authority of teachers as superior.

"Children are always regarded as subordinate to adults. They occupy the weaker position," says Arist Merdeka Sirait, executive director of the independent National Commission for Child Protection. Generally, teachers in Indonesia prefer using "authority" and "power" to more conciliatory methods of discipline. Not many seem aware that children even have rights. "Most Indonesian teachers practice the top-down approach," Fonseka says. Child abuse by teachers can ultimately be traced to their lack of knowledge of child rights, despite legal instruments like the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC), Sirait says. Indonesia ratified the convention in August 1990, but its implementation is "not good," according to Human Rights State Minister Hasballah Saad. "The convention still needs to be socialized."

The education ministry, however, points out that Indonesian teachers who mete out corporal punishment to students often do so unconsciously. "The teachers who give corporal punishment are not knowledgeable enough on how to educate their students. They may have problems in their families or they may be sick," Sidi says. Over the past two years, the Ministry of National Education has dismissed many teachers for weak performance, but none have been fired for physically punishing students. "Since I became a director general two years ago, I never heard of teachers getting dismissed for giving harsh treatment to students," Sidi says.

In Indonesia, there is no effective system to detect child abuse at schools. The country's hospitals, for instance, neither report nor keep records of child abuse cases. Indonesian students, including their parents, also rarely report abusive acts by teachers to the police, as they believe "teachers are educators who always know the good ways to educate children." "We would like the communities, including the parents and teachers associations to be involved in the educational system to minimize corporal punishment at schools," Sidi says. "We also want to encourage the teachers to change their approach from top-down to bottom-up, from teaching to learning, and from knowledge-based to competency-based," he adds.

To help the Indonesian government stem corporal punishment in schools, UNICEF is raising the awareness of teachers about child rights. It also plans to set up child protection institutions in Indonesia's provincial capitals, where corporal punishment in schools remains entrenched. "Schools must be child-friendly. Corporal punishment given to children at schools often turns to be not educational because it brings shame to the victims," Fonseka says.

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