SUVA, FIJI, October 30, 2004: Whipping, beating, belting, slapping or hitting used to be popular means of disciplining students. Such cruel punishment subjects a person to physical violence and constitutes corporal punishment. Corporal punishment appears to have been in the school system for a long time. In earlier days it was acceptable for teachers to beat children as parents beat them at home. Since teachers were widely respected in all communities in Fiji, such type of punishment was looked upon as the best means of disciplining children and it became part of the education system. Corporal punishment is in fact the infliction of violence. Such punishment in schools, which are supposed to be custodians of values of peace and tolerance, can only lead to children growing up to become violent adults. In recent years many parents have began to resent the idea of their children being hit by teachers.
Now corporal punishment in schools is unlawful. This is because of the landmark Naushad Ali vs State case (Criminal Appeal no HAA0083 of 2001L). Delivering his judgment, Justice Jayant Prakash said corporal punishment was inconsistent with Section 25 (1) of the Fiji Constitution (1997) which states: "Every person has the right to freedom from torture of any kind, whether physical, mental or emotional, and from cruel, inhumane, degrading or disproportionately severe treatment or punishment."
Justice Prakash said children, by their status as children, needed special protection. Our educational institutions should be sanctuaries of peace and creative enrichment, not places of fear, ill-treatment and tampering with the human dignity of students. Following this judgment the Ministry of Education banned corporal punishment in schools. The ministry, through its Education Gazette Volume III of term 3, 2003 informed teachers that based on Justice Prakash's judgement, the infliction of corporal punishment was no longer allowed in schools. The gazette also indicated the ministry's firm stand on corporal punishment and ill treatment of children and warned that disciplinary action would be taken against any teacher or school head who did not comply with this new rule. It further warned that teachers who did not comply with this guideline would be subject to criminal prosecution as well.
Some people, however, lament that the days of corporal punishment seem to be over. They appear to be of the view that such punishment was the only way to control children. Such mentality should change. Cruel, inhumane, degrading and disproportionately severe treatment or punishment should never be seen as the best way of instilling discipline. These violent acts will only bring about more violence, thus resulting in an endless cycle of violence.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1989, recognizes and protects the rights of the child. Following the adoption of the CRC, the international trend has been to declare the use of violence against children or any form of corporal punishment illegal. A judgement made by the Supreme Court of Italy in 1996 declared that there was no place for corporal punishment in school. The judgement states: the use of violence for educational purposes can no longer be considered lawful. It also states: "As an educational aim, the harmonious development of a child's personality, which ensures that he/she embraces the values of peace, tolerance and coexistence, cannot be achieved by using violent means which contradict this goal."
Schools, parents and the general public should move away from the idea of corporal punishment. Such acts are often committed in a moment of frustration or anger. They inflict great physical and emotional suffering on the child. A child who grows up with such suffering is often scarred for life. Once adult, such a child is likely to inflict corporal punishment on his/her own children.
Instead of corporal punishment, children can be disciplined in other ways. These include taking away their privileges. This can mean barring children from their sports, forbidding them from watching their favorite program on television or forbidding them an outing. The school system has its own disciplinary measures in place to deal with serious misbehavior that students may engage in. These range from counselling to expulsion from the school. In a society, which is thriving to build on a peaceful, harmonious and caring environment, there is no place for corporal punishment.