16 May, 2021

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International Day To End Corporal Punishment Of Children – An Open Letter To The Secretary, Education, Northern Provincial Council

By D.C. Ambalavanar –

Dear Mr.Ilaangovan,

Violence affects children in every country, culture and community across the world. Here in Sri Lanka and in the Northern Province we are no exception.

At a time when the world’s attention is focused on the covid pandemic we have lost sight of the fact that in many places violence against children has increased during this time. This has been the case in Sri Lanka too.

What is sad is the fact that most of the violence experienced by children comes at the hands of those who are supposed to love them most, their care givers. This includes their family and their teachers.

As you and others in the Education Ministry of the Northern Province are fully aware, corporal punishment continues to be a huge problem in our schools. This is in spite of all the workshops, government circulars and even the recent Supreme Court ruling regarding this. Teachers continue to use this barbaric and totally unacceptable action against vulnerable children in the name of discipline. Most teachers, principals and ministry administrators are aware of the immediate and long term harmful effects of physical and verbal abuse on children. Many teachers have attended workshops where they have been made aware of alternative forms of discipline including positive methods but do not seem to care enough to change the way they deal with children. Teachers can indeed face many challenges when teaching children but nothing can justify the use of violence. We do not tolerate violence between adults. How can we justify it when an adult hurts a vulnerable child? Of course there are many teachers who do not resort to corporal punishment and do their best for our children but unfortunately they are forced to work in an environment and culture where this practice continues unabated.

The latest example of such violence is the recent incident at a school in Kayts which you will definitely be aware of. It was terrible enough that the child was physically hurt by a teacher and students and needed hospitalisation but also the manner in which the school authorities tried to deny it and even blame the boy’s mother when she complained(according to media reports). From my experience over the past few years in Jaffna, this is very typical of the way school authorities behave when a complaint is made regarding corporal punishment. First they ask the child to deny it happened, then deny the incident took place at all and if parents persist with complaints then target the parents and the child. I speak from personal experience as something similar happened when dealing with this problem on behalf of my son who suffered corporal punishment when he was in school. I know other parents who have had similar experiences. Recently I heard of how an A level student in an ‘elite’ school was hit by the teacher and the horrible manner in which the other students were then insulted by the same teacher. These incidents are widespread in our schools.

This has to stop. Our schools are supposed to create well rounded, educated future citizens for our society. Instead, many of them are scarred for life after experiencing such difficulties especially if they do not get the support of their parents. Unfortunately, many parents do not take up these issues on behalf of their children because they fear the further problems their child will experience if they complain. Of course, some parents unfortunately approve of this practice without understanding its harmful effects.

As the Secretary, Ministry of Education of the Northern Provincial Council, I urge you to take the necessary steps to make sure that the practice of corporal punishment, verbal abuse and psychological intimidation of children in our schools is effectively banned and serious action taken against those who practice it. Children and parents should be encouraged to bring such incidents to the attention of the authorities. The ministry should take steps to make sure that teachers and principals are adequately trained in alternative forms of discipline and there should be an effective monitoring and implementation program.

April 30th has been declared as the International Day to End Corporal Punishment of Children. I urge you to use this day as a starting point to make sure that the Northern Province leads the way in effectively banning this harmful practice of corporal punishment in our schools.

As you know, ANAI, has helped arrange workshops and training for Principals and teachers before the pandemic started and we will continue to do whatever we can to help you in these efforts to eradicate corporal punishment from our schools.

Yours sincerely,

Dr. D.C. Ambalavanar

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