The case against corporal punishment

There is a long history of violence against Nigerian schoolchildren. In 2016, in a private school in Ibadan Oyo State, 14-year-old Oyinye Abariwe (not real name) was a victim of corporal punishment.

Young pupils have been maimed, sometimes incapacitated by their teachers who, in the process of teaching, resorted to corporal discipline. Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal, writes that unless corporal punishment is completely prohibited in public and private schools, youths may grow with psychological and physical scars that can result in a vicious cycle of violence.

There is a long history of violence against Nigerian schoolchildren. In 2016, in a private school in Ibadan Oyo State, 14-year-old Oyinye Abariwe (not real name) was a victim of corporal punishment.

On that sunny morning, it was an excited class of Junior Secondary School three that greeted Ms. Jemima Fatoyinbo (not real name). “Good morning, ma!” the kids stood up and in unison greeted the teacher in their most vociferous voice. Fatoyinbo gave a smile of approval and asked the pupils to settle down. It could have been a beautiful day until something ugly happened,

While the class was on, Abariwe, with her two infantile hands in her schoolbags was rummaging for something. “Oyinye!” she was jolted back to life as the teacher called. “Now, come and solve the equation.”

Young Abariwe couldn’t – she had not been paying attention. “If you don’t solve that equation, I’m going to beat you mercilessly,” the teacher let out with a threat. Chalk in hand, the kid quaked as she almost dissolved into the blackboard – transfixed by fear and lack of knowledge.

Fatoyinbo picked up a thick long cane from her desk and aimed for the head of the pupil, lashing out in several strokes at her face. “Go and sit down, idiot!” the teacher said as Abariwe trudged to her seat, sobbing like a child that is choking.

By the time Oyinye got home, she was an eyesore. Her mother was stunned. She applied some home remedies to soothe her daughter’s pain. The following day, the young girl was down with a fever, and the day after her two eyes have swollen. Two days after, at a hospital where she was taken to, Oyinye was declared blind by a doctor.

The teacher and the school denied culpability. In Nigeria’s public and private schools, corporal punishment remains a menace.

For example, Nigeria’s first national Violence Against Children Survey (VACS) conducted in 2014 found approximately six out of every 10 children experienced some form of violence; half of all children experienced physical violence, with parents or adult relatives being the most common perpetrator.

Male teachers are the most common perpetrators of the first incident of physical violence against children in the neighbourhood. One in six girls and one in five boys experienced emotional violence by a parent, caregiver or adult relative. The study noted that while it is not focused on acts of discipline, many of those perpetrating the violence may be doing so in the name of “discipline”.

According to the UNICEF’s statistical analysis of violence against children collected in 2011, 91% of children aged 2-14 experienced “violent discipline” (physical punishment and/or psychological aggression) in the home in the month prior to the survey. Nearly eight in ten (79%) experienced physical punishment and 81% experienced psychological aggression (being shouted at, yelled at, screamed at or insulted). A smaller percentage (62%) of mothers and caregivers thought that physical punishment was necessary in childrearing.

A report by Amnesty International in 2014 titled, ‘Welcome to Hell Fire: Torture and other Ill-treatment in Nigeria’ and based on visits to police stations and prisons throughout Nigeria and interviews with hundreds of former detainees revealed widespread torture and ill-treatment, including of children in detention.

Similarly, a report carried out at the end of the Transforming Education for Girls in Nigeria and Tanzania (TEGINT) project, a 2007-2012 initiative to transform the education of girls in northern Tanzania and northern Nigeria, found that in Nigeria at least 71 per cent of community members and 72 per cent of girls agreed “it is not okay for teachers to whip a girl who comes late to school because she was caring for a sick relative.”  The report surveyed the opinions of 629 girls and 186 community members.

The statistics are endless. Data collated in 2010 under “round 4” of the UNICEF Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey programme (MICS4), there was a record of 91 per cent of children aged between two and 14 years that experienced violent “discipline” – physical punishment and psychological aggression – in the home for at least one month.

Seventy-nine per cent experienced physical punishment, 34 per cent subjected to severe physical punishment (being hit or slapped on the face, head or ears or being hit over and over with an object) and 81 per cent of the children were made to go through psychological aggression – being shouted at, yelled at, screamed at or insulted.
It did not end there.

In a survey of 172 elementary school teachers in Ilorin State, 80 per cent of respondents had seen pupils being punished by elementary school teachers with a cane; 46 per cent had seen pupils being punished with a horse-whip –koboko; and 30 per cent with a hand.

Similarly, 61 per cent of the teachers had seen pupils being hit on the buttocks, 49 per cent on the back, 52 per cent on the palm of the hand, 20 per cent on the head and 16 per cent on the face – like Abariwe mentioned at the outset. Twenty-nine per cent of these teachers said they favoured the use of corporal punishment by elementary school teachers.

A further study by the African Child Policy Forum in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nigeria and Senegal found that hitting, beating and forced hard work were the most prevalent forms of violence against girls, and that most of the physical violence experienced by girls was corporal punishment. The study involved a survey of 3,025 girls (nearly 600 per country) aged between 18 and 24 about the violence they had experienced in their childhood.

In Nigeria, 84 per cent had been hit during their childhood; 90 per cent beaten; 55 per cent kicked; 71 per cent denied food and 17 per cent choked or burned. Teachers are among the common perpetrators of physical violence in schools.

Little wonder the Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children is calling for a prohibition to be enacted “in legislation applicable to all education settings, public and private, together with repeal of the provisions for the use of force by teachers in, article 295 of the Criminal Code (South), article 55 of the Penal
Code (North) and the Shari’a penal codes in the Northern states.

The organisation said, “Corporal punishment is lawful in schools under article 295(4) of the Criminal Code (South), which states that ‘a schoolmaster or a person acting as a schoolmaster” is automatically considered as having been entrusted with ‘authority for correction, including the power to determine in what cases correction ought to be inflicted’, and article 55 of the Penal Code (North), which states: ‘Nothing is an offence which does not amount to the infliction of grievous hurt upon any person and which is done by a schoolmaster for the purpose of correcting a child under eighteen years of age entrusted to his charge.’

“The government has stated that the Child Rights Act prohibits corporal punishment in schools. Article 11 of the Act states that every child is ‘entitled to respect for the dignity of his person’ and that no child shall ‘be subjected to torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment’, but it does not explicitly prohibit corporal punishment in schools.”

Chairman, Nigeria Union of Teachers ( NUT), Lagos State chapter, Mr Segun Raheem, in his contribution said stakeholders committee on education have met and resolved that corporal punishment should be removed from the school system.

Raheem clarifies that since punishment is a form of corrective measure, it should not be in such a way that would further harden the child.

“The question to ask in the first instance is what is punishment and the purpose it is meant to serve? Punishment is to make corrective measures based on what has been done wrong but it does not have to be corporal.

However, Raheem stressed that if corporal punishment must be effected, it  must be in the presence of the school principal or vice and not just by any teacher. Such punishment, he enphasised must be recorded in the log book for record purposes.

He added, “We are moving away from corporal to other measures of punishment and we believe we can still achieve the same purpose. Any punishment that does not bring about a change in the behavior of a child is not a good one.”

In the same vein, Chinyere Nnabuife of Education Foundation, University of Lagos ( UNILAG) said one can punish a child in different ways depending on the issues one is trying to address but not to the extent of ‘criminal punishment.’

“A child can be asked to kneel, do an extra work or deprived of some things but not to the extent of inflicting pain. There are other ways of correcting a child but not in the sense of using hot iron or metal.”

In his contribution, an educationist, Mr Nelson Ayodele said schools and parents should embark more on the affective domain, which centers on the emotional needs of the children.

Ayodele who is the Chief Executive Officer of Standard Mandate International ( SM1), an educational consultancy outfit added that moral persuasion should take the place of corporal punishment.

He said, “Corporal punishment goes against the brain of psychology of students, the era of bullying children is gone. The more corporal punishment you do, the less result you get.  We have done value building seminars by exposing the children to the concept of responsibility, including courtesy and honesty and the child gets convinced and embraced those values. Besides, teachers and schools must be emotionally intelligent by connecting with the children, this way, they have a better control and management of the child.

“There is need to embark more on orientation and enlightenment to get the desired results in our children instead of using force.”

As schoolchildren are periodically maimed in the name of corporal discipline, parents and other stakeholders seem to turn a blind eye until such a punishment should go awry and affect their own children.

More needs to be done to stop the age-long scars –physical and mental – that teachers leave on pupils. Until then, the nation may have spun a web of a vicious cycle of violence as a way of learning and instruction.

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