By Raj Gonsalkorale –
There shall be peace on earth, but not until
All children daily eat their fill,
Go warmly clad against the winter wind
And learn their lessons with a tranquil mind.
And then, released from hunger, fear and need
Regardless of their colour, race or creed
Look upward smiling to their skies,
Their faith in life reflected in their eyes
- A poem printed on a calendar for 2002, and displayed in the United Nations Building in New York.
While parents or near relatives or carers in the case of some orphans would be the guardians of children when they are at home, or in a care facility, their guardians are their teachers when they are at school. A child is not the property of a guardian, but a human being with rights who has to be looked after by the guardian.
There is very unfortunate evidence of many instances when such guardians in schools have used force and cruel practices rather than love and kindness on children left in their care. Corporal punishment in schools is regarded to be an unchecked phenomenon in Sri Lanka.
Several articles have been published in the main stream media in recent times highlighting the ongoing unjust practice. Now, a group of concerned individuals have come together to raise more awareness about this practice and to highlight the need to end Corporal Punishment in schools. This group has articulated a vision and a goal to end this unsavoury practice in schools by 2020.
END CORPORAL PUNISHMENT IN SRI LANKA
The inaugural national campaign END CORPORAL PUNISHMENT SRI LANKA – VISION 2020 will focus on ending CP in schools only. It is an INCLUSIVE process involving children, parents, educators, administrators and law enforcement authorities to find progressive and practical solutions together rather than an exclusive process of punitive and abortive measures such as black listing teachers or imprisoning individuals. The campaigners have developed a proposal titled the PENTAGON PRPOSAL to be handed over to His Excellency President Maithripala Sirisena on the 30th of September at a public gathering.
The historic PENTAGON PROPOSAL unites five stake holders of Government, HE the PRESIDENT, THE MINISTRIES OF EDUCATION, CHILDREN’S AFFAIRS, LAW & ORDER AND JUSTICE in making meaningful and permanent solutions. The organisers state that their objective is to encourage and incentivize all authorities responsible for child protection to uphold National and International laws thus ensuring that no child is subjected to cruel and/or degrading punishment in schools, and thereby allowing children to pursue educational activities in an environment devoid of corporal punishment and in a happy and safe learning environment, which promotes mental wellbeing for children to mature into wholesome caring individuals.
The organisers have also initiated an online petition for individuals to register their opposition to Corporal punishment. This petition can be accessed through the link noted below, and all readers of Colombo Telegraph are encouraged to log in, and read the petition and then sign it if they are supportive of ending Corporal Punishment in Schools.
Corporal Punishment (CP) is an archaic and heinous form of punishment of children, which is considered a crime and is banned in 132 countries. Corporal punishment is defined by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) as: “any punishment in which physical force is used and intended to cause some degree of pain or discomfort, however light” (2001).
More than 250 research studies show associations between corporal punishment and a wide range of negative effects and adverse psychological outcomes on the victims. No studies to date, have found evidence of any benefits.
In addition to physical harm there is also a significant degree of humiliation and mental hurt. The gravity of the long-term effects have been proved beyond any doubt through credible research harm (Ogando Portella & Pells 2015).
It is questionable whether Sri Lanka has been serious about unambiguously banning and enforcing the ban on Corporal punishment although the country ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1992.
Since then, there have been 6 Parliamentary Elections, 9 Prime Ministers and 4 Executive Presidents. However, despite the many pledges made by successive governments and a plethora of proposals, the National Action Plan for the Promotion of Human Rights 2011-2016 pledging a ban on corporal punishment, circulars by the Ministry of Education in 7/2005 and 12/2016, corporal punishment is still said to be rampant in schools.
Most significantly, The National Human Rights Action Plan 2017-2022 and the National Plan of Action for Children in Sri Lanka 2016-2020 do not address corporal punishment. The country appears to have been paying mere lip service to safeguarding children from the tyranny of some school teachers, leaving them vulnerable, fearful and some, psychologically damaged.
Whilst there have been some improvements in the approach to this matter, the relevant authorities have failed to implement Circulars, and failed to take appropriate action to end corporal punishment. Sri Lanka was issued a ‘red warning’ at the recently concluded UNCRC session in February 2018, section E paragraph 21 “deeply concerned that high numbers of children are subjected to abuse and violence, including corporal punishment and that corporal punishment remains legal in the home, in alternative care settings, in penal institutions, as well as in schools”.
The UNCRC has laid out clear criteria for assessing prohibition of corporal punishment of children (see paragraphs. 30 to 37 in General Comment No. 8): all forms of corporal punishment, however light, must be clearly and *explicitly* prohibited in legislation and any legal provisions which allows the use of “reasonable” punishment or which regulate the use of corporal punishment must be repealed.
Many people believe that Corporal Punishment is banned in Sri Lanka because ARTICLE 11 of CONSTITUTION of Sri Lanka states ‘No person shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’; ARTICLE 12 (1) reaffirms ‘All persons are equal before the law, and are entitled to the equal protection of the law.’ it is considered a crime via PENAL CODE 308 A ‘Whoever, having the custody, charge or care of any person under eighteen years of age, wilfully assaults, ill-treats, neglects, or abandons such person or causes or procures such person to be assaulted, ill-treated, neglected, or abandoned in a manner likely to cause him suffering or injury to health (including injury to, or loss of sight of hearing, or limo or organ of the body or any mental derangement), commits the offence of cruelty to children’.
The legislation is contradictory and confusing
PENAL CODE ARTICLE 82 states “Nothing, which is done in good faith for the benefit of a person under twelve years of age, or, of unsound mind, by or by consent … having lawful charge of that person, is an offence by reason of harm” whilst ARTICLE 341 (i) “if a schoolmaster, in the reasonable exercise of his discretion as master, flogs one of his scholars, he does not use criminal force, because, although he intends to cause fear and annoyance to the scholar, does not use force illegally.”
Furthermore, CHILDREN & YOUNG PERSON’S ORDINANCE 1939 ARTICLE 71(6) provide legal defences to parents, teachers or other persons having lawful control of a child to administer corporal punishment to a child without being charged.
In a previous article, this writer highlighted the wider structural, social and societal issues that impact on children behaviour, and the difficulties that some teachers encounter in managing such behaviour. It is the view of this writer that children have to be made safe and secure and confident and that corporal punishment must be banned in schools and the ban implemented without fear or favour. The writer however feels that corporal punishment also has linkages to other factors which are structural (size of class numbers and the resulting difficulty teachers have in managing such classes), social (domestic violence that impacts on children behaviour, difficulties that single parents have in managing children) and societal (undue influence of politicians, senior officials, particularly law enforcement officials when it comes to enforcement of the ban).
The appeal made in this article to the current Executive President is to take firm leadership on this issue and take steps to (a) remove any ambiguity that exists on banning corporal punishment and ensure it is banned without any qualifications, (b) introduce mechanisms to enforce the ban and (c) initiate a process to assist teachers through information and training on how children may be managed without employing cruelty but instead love, kindness and understanding and (e) commence a national discussion with teachers and parents on issues such as class room sizes, social issues such as domestic violence and its impact on children and their behaviour and societal issues that hinder enforcement of the ban on corporal punishment.
This is an opportunity for President Sirisena to demonstrate his leadership credentials and be the true “Appachchi” of all our children and also support the teachers who do a tremendous job in a vocation that is so vital for character building of our children who are the future of our Nation.