Colombo Telegraph

Something Humane President Sirisena Can Do; Ban Corporal Punishment In Schools

By Raj Gonsalkorale

Raj Gonsalkorale

Those who cannot teach young children without resorting to hitting them need serious psychotherapy. They invariably come from broken families being subjected to such traumatic treatments from their childhood, more often than not ending up in marriages that went sour. Now they let out their pent up frustrations on helpless children who have been entrusted to their care. It’s interesting to note that they tend to choose their victims carefully-more often than not from a minority ethnic group or an economically challenged background (one of the recent victims who had to be hospitalized was a Muslim boy. Isn’t it strange that you have never heard of a teacher at Royal Primary thrashing a child of a top politician requiring hospitalization? – Padmasena Dissanayake

Padmasena Dissanayake is an alumnus of Royal College, Colombo and a member of Royal ’64 Group and the Olive Group of Royal College. He is also a past Secretary of Royal College Old Hostellers Association and the main architect of the Royal Millennium March. He is a father of three children and a grand father of five.  In an open letter to all parents of the Royal Primary School, Colombo an elite school in Sri Lanka although some may disagree with that label, he is canvassing for a just and humane cause on behalf of many students in the country from the age of 5 years, and an overwhelming number of parents and teachers who probably feel helpless to take on the high and mighty of the education system in the country.

He goes onto say “We were also very surprised to learn that we were the first complainants as many parents backed down due to pressure and left without making an official complaint.  We not only went through all the procedures and declared that we’re prepared to take the perpetrator to courts on criminal charges. The Principal and the Head of the Primary School were summoned to the NCPA where both admitted to the charges and solemnly agreed to put the house in order. Just to make sure that all the teachers were made fully aware of the gravity of the crime, repercussions and legal positions NCPA conducted a three day workshop where all primary teachers participated. The workshop was conducted by the top authorities in the field. What they discovered was the larger majority of them weren’t guilty: few who used it were habitual offenders and they had no respect for Ministry circulars, NCPA warnings and the authority of the Principal or the head of the Primary. They were a law unto themselves! We thought our complaint, which led to a chain reaction, finally eliminated the scourge for good. Not so. Few months afterwards a friend whom I consider another son, sought my guidance as his son has been constantly hit by his class-teacher. I wasted no time in introducing him to the then the acting Chairman NCPA under whose instructions my friend immediately lodged a complaint at the Cinnamon Gardens Police Station. He went very far. Having met the Minister of Education and explained how rotten some teachers of the Primary were and it resulted in transferring out 35 teachers who had served over 10 years. We thought the problem was over. Apparently not! The latest I hear is that a teacher, who one might call a serial offender judging by past abuses, has struck again. This time the victims are three year 4 students. Her choice of weapons are said to be music instruments. Would any child love music after her training?”

Mr Dissanayake’s exposes cannot be considered isolated incidents. Much has been written by others in recent times  including an article by Amanda Moore in the Colombo Telegraph on the 21st of February 2018 (see later in this article) and a more recent on by Vimukthi Fernando and Husna Inayathullah in the Sunday Observer on the 22nd of July 2018. This article mentions the plight of the child of a parent in an international school, Dr Tush Wickremanayake, and an organisation formed by her, ‘Stop Child Cruelty’ which can be contacted by telephone on 0779497265 or by email: info@stopchildcruelty.com.

There cannot be any doubt that something needs to be done as whatever that has been done has not worked, although very possibly, an overwhelming number of teachers and principals are parents themselves and respects and loves their school children as their own.

In looking at some articles that have been written, it appears that there is some ambiguity whether Corporal punishment has been banned in Sri Lanka or not. 

Section 308 A of the Sri Lankan Penal Code (amendment) states that cruelty against children causing hurt, grievous or simple as well as torture, is a criminal offence. This Section, reproduced below however, is not about Corporal punishment but more generally about cruelty against children.

It is reliably understood that a circular issued by the Education Department, (ED/01/12/01/04/24), on May 11, 2005 to all local schools, regulating corporal punishment and assault of school children in Sri Lanka, had been withdrawn 3 days after its issue on account of pressure being brought upon the then Minister of Education by School Principals and others. This needs to be verified however and also whether a subsequent circular had been issued if indeed this circular had been withdrawn.

In a recent article titled “Corporal punishment as a disciplinary measure in Sri Lanka (Colombo Telegraph, February 21st 2018), author Amanda De Moore notes that at a recent session of the UNCRC it was highlighted that Sri Lanka has not taken proper measures to ban corporal punishment and recommendations were made to take necessary measures to ban corporal punishment to children at their homes as well as in schools. This statement seems to confirm that corporal punishment is indeed not banned in Sri Lanka.

As of 2016, an estimated 128 countries have prohibited corporal punishment in schools, including all of Europe, and most of South America and East Asia. 

Approximately 69 countries still allow for corporal punishment in schools, including parts of the USA, some Australian states, and a number of countries in Africa and Asia.

A number of medical, paediatric or psychological societies have issued statements opposing all corporal punishment in schools, citing such outcomes as poorer academic achievement, increases in antisocial behaviour, injuries to students, and an unwelcoming learning environment. Research shows that corporal punishment is less effective than other methods of behaviour management in schools, and “praise, discussions regarding values, and positive role models do more to develop character, respect, and values than does corporal punishment Evidence links corporal punishment of students to a number of adverse outcomes, including: “increased aggressive and destructive behaviour, increased disruptive classroom behaviour, vandalism, poor school achievement, poor attention span, increased drop-out rate, school avoidance and school phobia, low self-esteem, anxiety, somatic complaints, depression, suicide and retaliation against teachers. 

Clarity is needed however as to whether Section 308A bans Corporal punishment in schools.  It does not appear to do so unless the action of a teacher impinges on the provisions of the Penal Code and an action within whatever is permitted under Corporal punishment has been used deliberately to cause grievous bodily harm to a child, and then proven to have been so. It is very likely an offending teacher or Principal engages in this type of act due to his or her own psychological battles, and is likely to offend again. They too may need counselling and treatment by professionals and even medical practitioners. 

However, children who have no psychological issues are likely to develop them if they have to endure corporal punishment. They are the next generation who will give rise to the one that will follow. It is therefore important to ensure they are treated as human beings, their vulnerability and helplessness is recognised and they are supported with love and understanding.  

Corporal punishment within whatever bounds would give legitimacy to a narcissistic individual to harm a child and claim it was not intentional, and then not face any  legal consequences for his or her action. The damaged child then will not have any protection by that very same law that would exonerate the offending individual.

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