Sir Frank Peters
April 30, 2017: Zimbabwe has followed in the commendable footsteps of the civilised world and outlawed corporal punishment to children, but not without loud moans, groans, gripes, and grumbles from the education sector and sections of the public.
If the Constitutional Court upholds the ruling it will transform the way parents have ‘disciplined’ their children for centuries in the southern African country.
Pro corporal punishment advocates believe Zimbabwean children are different, unlike other children worldwide, and need to be thrashed to ensure discipline and respect! The Zimbabwean child rights groups, understandably, are appalled by the ignorance of the ‘teachers’ and others who cling or subscribe to such nonsensical and ludicrous beliefs.
The recent ruling by High Court judge Justice David Mangota outlaws the subjecting of any person (including children) to physical (corporal punishment) or psychological torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in all environments, which includes in the home or school. Parents and teachers are now not allowed to lay their hands on children even if they misbehave.
The historic ruling was triggered after the mother of Linah Pfungwa (6) complained that she had been assaulted and severely beaten with a rubber pipe by a ‘teacher’ for failing to have her reading book signed by guardians as proof she had done her homework.
The main reason proffered in the general uproar against the ruling has been that the ban will promote unruly behaviour among children while those in authority will have nothing to use in disciplining them.
The general conclusion from such warped thinking is that corporal punishment is synonymous with child discipline and vice-versa and the banning of the former means children can no longer be disciplined. How wrong can people be, even those allegedly educated?
Linah’s loving and enlightened mother had argued that violence was not the solution and other forms of discipline should be used for children. "If my child misbehaves, I ground her by denying her access to television as well as denying her pocket money or other goodies like sweets and presents," she said. "If she does well, I reward her with presents or extra hours of watching television.” How loving, how caring, how wise? If only all parents were the same.
Thanks to our learned friend, mentor, and Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, we learned: “To discipline means to teach, not to punish”, but, sadly, many ‘teachers’ are allergic to such wisdom and break out in a rash of disagreement.
Discipline is primarily about teaching and explaining to children in a caring manner the difference between right and wrong and helping children to learn behaviour expected of them. There’s a very wise proverb that says ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. Sadly, it’s been misinterpreted and twisted to mean, if children are not physically punished when they do wrong, their personal development will suffer.
Tragically, the real meaning became a fatality during translation and, sadly, countless children worldwide have suffered unnecessarily ever since. In Hebrew the word “rod” translates as that used in Psalms 23:4, “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me”.
The shepherd’s rod/staff was (still is) used to ENCOURAGE and GUIDE the sheep towards taking a desired direction, NOT to beat or damage them.
The correct translation of the proverb, therefore, should read ‘spare GOOD GUIDANCE and spoil the child’. And that makes complete sense. Can you imagine the holiest of holy men like Muhammad or Jesus, who preached universal love, beating a child? Joseph and Mary never beat Jesus and Jesus never hit his pupils. The mind boggles as to where corporal punishment found roots in the education system and why it continues to hold on like daisy roots, despite the vast amount of irrefutable research clearly condemning it.
I’m still seeking a ‘teacher’ who will explain to me how kicking, grabbing, shoving, slapping, pushing, shouting, screaming, pinching or confining children in a small space, taping their mouths shut, pulling their hair, tugging at their ears, belittling, mocking, chiding, embarrassing, swearing, cursing and robbing them of dignity, making them look foolish in front of their peers or breaking sticks upon their young tender hands, backs, or bottoms, actually help their development – or the children who are watching – and assist them to become well-rounded upstanding citizens.
A decent society recognizes a child’s maturity and/or limitations and requires us –individually and collectively – as adults to nurture, protect and mentor them in a manner that guides them into becoming responsible citizens who abhor violence in any form, and who respect themselves and the dignity and rights of others.
Boy’s legs amputated
Bangladesh is not the only country suffering from the corporal punishment malady, which was/is prevalent in primitive societies. The corporal punishment report that shocked the world this week stems from Johor in Singapore. There, Mohammad ThaqifAmin Mohd Gaddafi an 11-year-old Muslim boy had both legs amputated, due to a bacterial infection, and died. It’s alleged a crazed ‘teacher’ brutally whipped Thaqif (and 14 other children) with a water hosepipe at a private Islamic boarding school. And that can happen here… similar already has. When will the cruelty and madness cease?
If mutual respect is the solid foundation of every good marriage, the same can be said about a teacher/student relationship. Nobody respects those who hit or abuse them, but people fake respect, to avoid being hit again. That's self-preservation, not respect.
Children need proper positive discipline, which is not found in corporal punishment. Nelson Mandela once said “There can be no keener revelation of a society’s soul than the way in which it treats its children”.
Zimbabwe children are no different to those in Bangladesh or elsewhere. They laugh, cry, bleed, and feel sorrow, hurt and pain like children everywhere, but because corporal punishment has been ingrained in the Zimbabwean system for so long it’s difficult for many of them to recognize a society without it, although corporal punishment only generates negative consequences.
Despite the landmark High Court ruling by Justice David Mangota, the children are not out of the woods, but they’re one step closer and heading in the right direction. Similar can be said for Bangladeshi children.
In 2011 Justice Md. Imman Ali and Md. Sheikh Hasan Arif outlawed the inhuman, ineffective, ignorant practice of corporal punishment in schools and madrasas throughout Bangladesh, declaring it to be: 'cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and a clear violation of a child's fundamental right to life, liberty and freedom'.
(Sir Frank Peters is a former newspaper and magazine publisher and editor, a humanitarian, a royal Goodwill Ambassador and a foreign friend of Bangladesh.)