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School CP - April 2003

Daily Nation, Nairobi, 29 April 2003


So now we can beat pupils senseless?

By John Kamau

When a Limuru court acquitted a teacher recently for assaulting a student, it gave Thigiyo Boys High School teachers a carte blanche to assault their students as long as they are provoked "beyond control".

While setting free the teacher, George Mutura Munga, the Limuru Senior Resident Magistrate, Ezra Owino, said the student, David Kariuki, had "provoked" the teacher; and under provocation, an incensed person can behave beyond control.

This is a setback to the fight to end corporal punishment in our schools. It is a ruling that begs to be reviewed and the sooner Attorney-General Amos Wako and Chief Justice Evan Gicheru, ask for a review of this case, the better for this country's children. If not, we shall start rationalising violence on minors.

The teacher is alleged to have whipped, slapped, and kicked the boy into unconsciousness after he defied orders to kneel down on July 19, last year.

This case is more crucial than it appears on paper. It is a chance to end teacher-on-student violence. It also tells us that corporal punishment is still rife in our schools though it has been banned.

The magistrate looked at the case in the narrow sense of provocation and therefore failed to protect Kariuki and other children from violence.

This article is not about students' right to provoke teachers but about ending violence on school children.

Kariuki is one of many Kenyan children who are injured by their teachers. His parents were courageous enough to seek legal advice on this case and they have lost. In most cases, children and their parents fear lodging formal complaints because those who protest ill-treatment are often forced out of school altogether, effectively losing their chance for an education.

Although corporal punishment has been proscribed in Kenyan schools, recent studies show that it continues in many. In a lot more, it has been replaced by other humiliating punishments like being forced to kneel for hours, being slapped, kicked, or pinched.

Such routine punishments are slowly returning to schools to replace the cane and with such a ruling from Limuru, the battle against corporal punishment may be lost.

The UN Committee on the Rights of the Child says corporal punishment is incompatible with the Convention on the Rights of the Child. It is a practice that interferes with a child's right to receive an education and to be protected from violence.

This leaves our children vulnerable to punishment for arriving in school late, missing school without permission, stepping on the grass, or even "making noise".

The Ministry of Education must do more to enforce the provisions provided in our laws. The investigatory branch of the Teachers Service Commission should also flex its muscles, investigate cases of violence against students, and fire teachers who cannot resist using the cane.

Article 29 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child states that education shall be directed towards the development of the child's mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential; the development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms; and preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace and tolerance. 

Beating a child senseless does not help him or her to develop fully and nor does it prepare him for a responsible life.

On the contrary, the use of corporal punishment undermines the very purpose of education as articulated in the Convention. It teaches them that a solution to provocation must result in violence. That is regrettable.

Teachers should be taught alternatives to corporal punishment -- something virtually non-existent in this country.

In a human rights sense, the kind of punishment meted out on Kariuki can be a form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, and and is akin to the beatings that people in police cells receive long before they are found guilty. 

If we have accepted that corporal punishment of prisoners constitutes a human rights violation, then courts should help the country eradicate the belief that corporal punishment of children has an instructive purpose.

It is for this reason that many international human rights instruments prohibit the use of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and that includes the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which we have endorsed.

For years, some teachers and parents believed that punishment served a genuine pedagogical function, despite the fact that it discourages peaceful solutions to discipline problems. It teaches students that the only way to solve problems is through violence.

We cannot continue rationalising violence on children when studies show that the use of corporal punishment may hinder learning, encourage children to drop out of school, and generally undermine the purposes of education. 

The alternative punishment - forcing students to kneel for long periods in front of the classroom as a form of punishment should be stopped.

Mr Kamau is the Editor of Rights Features Service.

Copyright 2003, Nation Media Group Ltd. All rights reserved.

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